Chapter 1: Minus 74 days, Hangar Bay Area, Crematoria
Kyra had a decision to make and it fucking sucked. Crouched behind her rock she watched the Necromongers make a break for their frigate while the sun began to scorch the landscape around them. Not far on the other side of her cover, amidst the strewn corpses of his enemies, lay the one person in the entire ‘verse that she thought was invincible. The image of his lifeless body on the runway still burned in the back of her eyeballs. She knew she had seconds to react before she lost the tiny shred of shade she was taking refuge in and the sun cooked her to a crisp. Was he really dead? It sure as hell looked that way. Should she stay here and die by his side? He wouldn’t have wanted that and she knew it. Riddick would have told her to save herself and forget about him. Riddick would have done that if it had been her laying there instead of him.
But Kyra wasn’t Riddick. She fought her desire to go to him like a sobbing child even now, like Jack would have done. She gritted her teeth as the last of the Necromongers hopped aboard their vessel and that haunting alarm ceased. The hatch was closing. If she didn’t move now she’d never get another chance. In that desperate moment, Kyra latched on to the one thing that might give her a reason to carry on: revenge. If Riddick was really gone then she owed him that much for getting her through that hellish run across the surface of this damned planet. She owed him that much for saving her again and again as she continued to slow him down, to be a burden. She owed him and she was going to pay up this time even if it meant taking on an entire goddamn army.
A numbing stillness washed over her. Kyra’s decision was made now. As the last shreds of her tiny shelter melted away with the rising sun she dashed toward the closing hatch. The ship began to rise and the walkway below the hatch began to retract as she reached it. She caught the edge of the walkway and pulled herself up in time to roll under the hatch door as it slid down and locked into place. The interior of the ship was cool and dark and her immediate area was vacant. Kyra judged that she had perhaps thirty seconds to act before someone found her. She took five of those precious seconds to close her eyes and clear her mind, searching for the animal within her that she had birthed five years ago on a mercenary vessel following her escape with Riddick from a dead, dark planet full of monsters. The familiar clarity came to her and she welcomed it, quashing the crippling sadness that constricted her heart. She got to her feet, took quick stock of her surroundings, and formulated a plan.
Chapter 2: Minus 73 days, Necromonger Frigate, Orbit Around Gas Giant Ignis
The massive frigate shuddered as Kyra fought the awkward flight controls. The pilot’s body lolled like a limp sack at her feet, blood pooling below him from his sliced neck. For a crash course in Necromonger flight technology she thought she wasn’t doing too badly since she’d managed to get the hatch door sealed. After she’d given up trying to decouple the docking clamps she simply decided that she didn’t give a shit about the integrity of the frigate so long as the hull remained intact and was in the process of physically ripping the two vessels apart. She ignored the blaring warnings on the globed screen in front of her and cranked the gravity drives, taking perverse pleasure in the sound of grinding metal when the frigate broke loose of the huge warship it had been connected to.
Voices screamed at her through the ship’s communication system as she pulled away. She ignored them as the frigate turned and the image of the fiery gas giant they were orbiting filled the view screen. She knew the planet was called Ignis and that it had a few moons but not much more than that. The Necromongers were apparently using this spot as a place where they could meet up to transfer their high value commander to a larger vessel for escort back to his ultimate destination. She’d heard as much eavesdropping from her hiding places during the twenty two hour trip from Crematoria to this stop. They never seemed to notice her presence, though it helped that they had lost their lensers and the majority of their fighting force during the recent battle. It left her plenty of leeway to stay unnoticed and wait for the right time to strike.
Kyra worked the controls on her screen, searching for some way to bring up information on the system that might give her a good place to touch down and disappear for a while. She brought up scanner records of the gas giant and its moons but was interrupted when a proximity warning came up and blocked her view.
“Shit!” she spat as four of the small hammer-like fighters came into view.
She tossed a glance to her left where the gunner would be sitting and considered trying to shoot them down. If she swapped seats she would lose her mobility and be completely unable to evade return fire. At best she’d be able to get one or two surprise shots off. It wouldn’t be enough so she abandoned the idea, swept the alarm aside, and hastily flipped through the records she’d pulled up.
One of the fighter pilots was attempting to hail her. The tone of his voice said she had one chance to respond before they shot the frigate down. Thinking as quickly as she could, she focused on one of the planets seven small moons. It was labelled IG-4 and the image showed a lush green surface dotted by innumerable lakes and ponds of varying sizes. She tapped a command and the image expanded to show a brief readout of details which she skimmed over.
Name: IG-4, fourth satellite of gas giant Ignis
Oxygen Levels: High
Resource Availability: High
Climatory Tolerance Rating: 7
Human Population: 0
Adjusted Habitability Rating: 0
Kyra wondered what an adjusted habitability rating was supposed to mean but she didn’t have long to mull it over. A warning shot across the frigate’s nose brought her back to the present. She was out of time. Screw it, she thought and set the moon’s current position as the ship’s destination. She punched the frigate’s gravity drive to max and ground her teeth as it took what felt like forever to spin up to full speed.
Angry chatter burst through the communication speakers the moment her escort realized what she was doing and she felt the heavy vessel shudder under fire from the fighters. The frigate must have been one hell of a tank because it kept moving through the shots while more alarms popped up on her screen. No hull breach yet, she noted with some relief. However, the fighters were in hot pursuit and they were keeping up with the frigate’s top cruising speed. Eyeing her course data, Kyra figured that she only had to stay ahead of them for about ten minutes because the moon wasn’t far from the docking point. She wished the frigate had rear guns.
Slowly, very slowly, the fighters were catching up to her as the moon came into view on the screen. She searched for cloud cover as she drew closer but saw none. The green was almost flat and uniform from this distance broken only by the spotting of the pools and lakes. On her screen she saw the ship’s auto-scanner pick up the remnants of a settler outpost of unknown status and integrity. She adjusted her course for it and the frigate turned. Suddenly, a shot slammed into its side as though the pursuing fighters had been waiting for an opportunity such as this.
Red flashing text filled the screen telling her that she had a hull breach and the entirety of the ship’s structure groaned around her. A meter followed the warning text and seemed to depict the oxygen levels inside the ship. They were dropping, fast. Kyra wasn’t sure what to do to counteract this. She had learned how to handle the ship’s basic flight controls and how to bring up information from observing the pilots but she had no idea what emergency protocols the vessel had or how to access them. Fortunately, at the rate of her break-neck descent toward the moon’s surface she wouldn’t run out of oxygen before entering the atmosphere. She just wasn’t sure the frigate would survive the entry burnout with a compromised hull. Well, only one way to find out.
Kyra’s jaw clenched as fire streaked across the view screen’s image, growing more and more intense with each second. Another shot flashed purple-white across the screen and she cursed. Those fuckers were still trying to bring her down. The ship jerked violently as something hit hard and Kyra was tossed from the pilot’s seat. She rolled across the floor and slammed up against the base of the gunner seat. Black specks floated in her vision as she shook her head, trying to regain her awareness. The entire ship was shaking uncontrollably now and when she glanced at the view screen she saw a vast matt of green rushing by below the ship as it nosed downward at an odd angle.
Struggling to her feet, Kyra grabbed hold of the pilot’s seat and checked the domed screen to find a new warning flashing below the hull breach notice. ENGINE FAILURE: GRAVITY DRIVE INOPERABLE, the warning said. One of the gunners must have taken out the engine. The frigate was now plummeting uncontrolled to the surface. Terror stricken, Kyra turned to the view screen and watched the greenery fill the view as the ship got closer and closer to its demise. It seemed as though her feet had melded with the floor. A little girl’s voice in her mind spoke to her, quivering with fear. It was a voice she knew, a voice she had tried to destroy. Is this it? Am I going to die here, like this? … Riddick?
Then, as vegetation started to scrape the belly of the frigate, another voice came to her. It was a low, angry growl that was almost a whisper. Maybe I do. It was one of the last things Riddick had said to her back on Crematoria when he’d questioned her will to live following a moment of rash behavior. The moment came back to her as time seemed to slow. They were running through the ash fields again, Kyra hot on his heels following a surprise attack by the prison guards during which she’d risked her neck to charge them as they retreated down one of their mole holes.
“What was that? You don’t care if you live or die?” Riddick had spat over his shoulder at her while they ran.
“If I kill them first, not really,” Kyra returned with as much bravado as she could, thinking it might impress him if he thought she wasn’t afraid of dying. Jack had been afraid of dying. Jack was weak. Riddick had surprised her with his reply when they’d landed on a fallen pillar of rock spanning a lava pit moments later.
“Maybe I do,” he growled back at her. “Keep moving!”
The memory bled away and Kyra felt calm enter her mind again. Keep moving. Right. If she died here, everything Riddick had ever done for her would be meaningless. She wasn’t about to let his sacrifice go to waste. Not while she still had even a tiny chance.
Kyra thought rapidly as the frigate’s massive frame and momentum carried it through the uppermost thin branches, snapping them off. Impact warnings were flashing everywhere. She recalled the small crawlspace she’d used to observe the pilot from above during the journey. It was a tight space but there was a section just overhead sandwiched between two sturdy structural beams that she thought should hold together if she could get into it in time. She put a foot on the pilot seat and steadied herself against the shaking of the ship, punching out the panel just overhead that she’d left unlatched. She reached for the edge of the hole and nearly lost her grip as the frigate clipped a thicker branch and rolled sideways, angling further downward.
Kyra pulled herself up and into the crawlspace in time to feel the ship plunge deep into the thicker forest cover and start to tear apart. The sound of groaning and snapping metal around her was deafening. She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself as best she could in the tiny space. The frigate was spinning now. Either tumbling over or sliding laterally, she couldn’t tell. Then it collided with something solid and jerked the other direction. The force slammed her against the opposite wall and a piece of bent metal caught her across the shoulder blades with a terrible crunch. She screamed at the sudden pain and squeezed her eyes shut as the frigate jolted around her and came to a sudden violent stop, throwing her backwards and knocking her head against a cross beam. She went out like a light.
Chapter 3: Minus 73 days, Crash Site, IG-4
Kyra regained consciousness with the smell of blood in her nostrils. There was an awful thrumming in her ears that she first thought was a result of the pounding in her head but as the mental fog of pain cleared she recognized it as the hum of several Necromonger gravity drives. The space she filled was almost completely dark save for a small amount of light bleeding up through the open panel behind her. When she tried to twist around and look in that direction sharp pain spread across her upper back, causing her to whimper. Gingerly, she raised a hand to the back of her head and when she brought her fingers forward they were wet with something dark and sticky.
Bad sign, Kyra thought as the smell of blood grew stronger. The hum of those drives increased steadily. They were nearby but not on top of her yet. She knew they were searching for the crash site, for her, and they’d find it before much longer judging by how much noise they were making. Propping herself up on her elbows caused her another sharp pain but she gritted her teeth through it and began to inch herself backwards. Gradually she worked herself out of the crawlspace as the wrecked ship creaked with the shift of weight. When her legs were dangling free she realized that the ship must be hanging at an angle, facing downward and canted to one side.
She let gravity pull her further out of the hole and tried to catch herself as she swung down but the pain in her shoulders flared and she lost her grip, tumbling down and across the tilted floor to slam up against the base of the gunner seat. She gasped as the breath was knocked from her body. Around her the ship swayed and groaned but seemed to stabilize after a moment. Kyra rallied herself and got to her feet. The angle of the ship wasn’t severe enough to prevent her from walking so she made her way through the dark bowels, trying to remember the way to the hatch below.
As it turned out, she didn’t have to bother with the hatch. The ship had nearly ripped itself in half at some point during the crash and the rear section dangled precariously on the other side of the gap, slung over a tangle of thick intertwined vines and slender branches. The section she stood on was wedged up against a natural split in the trunk of a tree and held there by more vines and supporting branches. The entire structure looked thoroughly mired despite the swaying that happened whenever she moved.
Kyra looked up as the sound of the gravity drives swelled briefly and then receded. There was no doubt they were still searching but the vegetative cover overhead was so thick that they would never find the crash without scanners. It was almost as if the huge frigate had no effect on the forest cover at all because Kyra couldn’t find an entry point anywhere to indicate where the ship had penetrated. What light broke through the canopy above painted the derelict vessel in a sallow yellow-green hue. Below her empty space yawned for hundreds of feet all around. In the dimness she could see the points where the growth above converged downward into great funnels of timber where they met and formed the trunks of massive trees. At this point, lateral branches thick enough for something as big as the frigate to land on comfortably spread out from each tree at around the same height. Where they crossed, they appeared to have grown together or around each other and fused somehow, or one had broken off and left room for the other to fill.
These giant branches had no evident green growth and looked ancient. The wide gaps between them and between each adjacent tree were dark holes through which the pale light from above could barely extend. Below these large mid-level branches stretched an even wider trunk that must have been easily as big around as an entire building and each one stretched down into the darkness further below to a point well beyond what Kyra could see. For a moment, Kyra thought she caught the glint of light reflecting off of wetness an incomprehensible distance below. If she fell from here, she would fall a very long way indeed.
Once she took stock of her surroundings, Kyra started to consider her current situation. She had to get away from the crash site and she had to find some kind of shelter. The air around her was cool but not uncomfortably so. Still, it would likely get cold at night and she was still wearing the scant prison clothing she’d escaped Crematoria in. She would have to find some way to bundle up before nightfall. She still had a small amount of water left in the hip flask she’d taken with them on the run but she had no food and her stomach was already growling its discomfort. She knew there would be some kind of food stored in the back of the ship but the way it hung made her reconsider going after it. Perhaps if she got desperate enough she’d risk trying for it.
For now, Kyra made her way carefully upwards toward the light. She climbed up and over the hanging ship, using the vines and branches as a convenient netting to cling to. It wouldn’t have been difficult to reach the top if she hadn’t injured her upper back. At least it didn’t seem like anything was broken, she would just have a nasty bruise and a lot of discomfort for the next few days. It was a small price to pay for getting out of that crash alive. Only, this time, Riddick hadn’t made it out with her. The thought twisted her gut and sent a wave of despair crashing over her. She braced herself against the branch she was on as tears stung her eyes. Not yet, she begged, her body trembling with the need to release the emotions she had stuffed away until this moment. Now was not the time to succumb to that side of her. Later, when she was safe from the Necromongers and not in fear of starving or freezing to death, she would lance that wound and let it bleed. She would let herself become Jack again for just a little while.
When she recovered enough to continue, Kyra pushed onward and upward. When she reached the canopy she was able to see that there were many different types of plants in this upper layer. She tried to trace some of them with her eyes but the whole mass of them was tangled together to form a thick carpet of varying shades of green speckled occasionally with shades of almost every other color. She couldn’t determine where one plant ended and another began. All around her she saw living things moving, jumping, climbing, or flying among the greenery. There were things that looked like reptiles or amphibians, small colorful birds that darted in and out of clumps here and there, and small clouds of tiny flying insects. On a branch next to her she watched some kind of bright green worm inch its way across a broad heart-shaped leaf and drop off the far edge of it into more leaves.
Every living creature she could see was small and fast. Too small to hunt for meat, she noted with mild disappointment. However, she could see fruits growing in many different shapes and colors around her that she might be able to risk eating if she was careful about trying them. A flash of movement in the sky drew her attention and she was able to catch one of the small gunner ships leaving the atmosphere. Kyra couldn’t see or hear any other ships above the flat sea of green that stretched for miles around her. For now, they’d given up looking for her but she knew they would be back and with scanners this time. Necromongers were nothing if not persistent.
Kyra attempted to get her bearings under the small white sun. Off to her left, the curve of the yellow-orange gas giant hung low on the horizon. There was a wide break in the canopy that must have been many miles across in that direction as well and Kyra recalled the image of IG-4 she had looked at on the frigate’s pilot screen. That must have been one of the many lakes dotting the surface of the moon. The gas giant was slowly setting as she watched, its diaphanous bands roiling as it sunk. The sun high above wasn’t moving visibly and it was nearly at the midday position so she decided to consider the direction of the setting gas giant to be west for purposes of orientation.
Turning in place, Kyra caught sight of what looked like man-made structures jutting up above the canopy a good distance southwest of her position. She remembered setting her descent course for the ruined settlement. It looked as though she’d fallen short of reaching it by a few miles. That would be her first goal for today, she told herself. Get to the settlement and try to scavenge anything useable. It wouldn’t be a safe place to stay for long since it was one of the only notable features around and it would draw attention, but she could at least use it to give herself a good head start.
Crossing the canopy was slow going. In some places Kyra was unsure of her footing and even slipped a few times on a weak branch. A journey that should have taken a few hours turned into half a day. The sun set long before she finally reached the ruins and as it turned out, she’d been mistaken about the directional designations she’d made earlier, at least with regard to the sun. The sun had set on the opposite horizon which meant she was actually traveling northeast. Now, weirdly, the gas giant was rising on what she considered the western horizon. It was moving quickly enough that Kyra imagined it would rise and set at least twice in a full day and night cycle.
Kyra shivered as the temperature dropped with the coming of nightfall. The glow of the gas giant wasn’t quite strong enough light to see by inside the darkened buildings of the settlement. Considering the amount of rust and damage, she decided it would be best to wait for morning before trying to salvage anything. Kyra found a clear spot of floor under what she thought might be a desk and curled up into a ball, shutting her eyes to let the darkness swallow her up.
Chapter 4: Minus 72 days, Ruined Settlement, IG-4
In the morning, there were small birds flitting in and out of the open structures. With light coming in through those same holes, the place looked a complete mess. It was as though something had shredded the metal sheeting of the walls in places and punctured it in others. The sparse furniture was mostly overturned, metal chair legs twisted and bent at odd angles. A thin mattress on a cot was reduced to a mangled pile of cloth and stuffing. There were ancient blood stains on it and when Kyra came closer she thought she saw shards of yellowed bone poking out in various places. She didn’t look too closely.
Something bad had happened here but the signs were unclear, the clues jumbled. Thinking about it made her head hurt and reminded her that she might have a concussion. She wondered if Riddick would have been able to tell what happened here and give her some quick-witted insight on what to look out for. Of course he would, she admonished, Riddick would’ve been able to lay all of this out like a fucking story. For now, she resigned herself to picking through the remains for anything useful and tried not to make too much sense of what she was seeing.
The structures of the settlement were supported by metal struts extending down to anchor in the trunk of the tree upon which it had all been built. There were six defined sections arranged in a ring around a central seventh structure that looked like a combined power and technology tower topped by the remains of some kind of platform. By the look of it, it was obvious that the same “something” that had torn the rest of the settlement apart had done similar work on the central tower. Smashed and useless solar panels hung limp or were missing, delicate antennas were snapped or bent, and the platform that had once topped the tower was mostly destroyed. What remained up there was very clearly unstable.
It was a wonder that each section supporting the surrounding platforms hadn’t collapsed. Kyra wasn’t going to take them for granted nonetheless. She wandered carefully through each one looking for anything that might still be usable. In one building she found a small mess hall with aluminum plates and cups long since picked clean by wildlife. Rummaging through the kitchen area she discovered plastic containers that had once been filled with liquid, probably water. All were empty and bone dry. Inside a barren storage locker she found a sealed crate that had been broken open. When she flipped it over she found a handful of packaged survival rations still intact inside the crate.
Well, that’s a start, she thought as she ripped one open and sniffed it cautiously. It smelled faintly dusty but it was still edible and she wolfed it down while she cradled the others in one arm. In another structure she found sleeping quarters and storage lockers with faded name tags. She counted nine lockers but only seven had tags and she could only make out three of those. They read L. Bennett, A. Bennett, and M. Corin. Some of the lockers were closed and had rusted shut so that she had to break them open. In one locker she found a strapped canvas travel sack. It was empty and a bit worn but she couldn’t find any holes so she dropped her collected goods into it and slung it over her shoulder. Under it there was a dusty lighter that worked which she shoved into a pocket.
Most of the other lockers contained personal items that she had no use for and articles of musty or damaged clothing that she couldn’t wear. The locker labelled “A. Bennett” contained several simple outfits that were clearly designed for a female prospector type. They were a little big for Kyra but she took them anyways. As she was folding them away she noticed a data pad sitting at the bottom of the locker. Out of sheer curiosity, she picked it up and flipped the power switch, fully expecting nothing to happen. It surprised her into nearly dropping it when the glass flickered to life.
The words Welcome to SettleNet scrolled across the screen as the pad booted up. After a moment, she was presented with a digital number pad and a password entry field. Kyra left it blank and tapped the blue arrow button below the numbers but the pad just flickered and pasted a line of red text below the password field that said Forgot your password? Click here! She huffed in annoyance and looked around. On the inside of the locker door there was a small piece of pink tape with a faded five digit number handwritten on it. She tried typing the number in and the data pad flashed a screen that said Welcome, Mrs. Bennett before loading up some kind of proprietary interface.
I guess that means they’re married, Kyra thought idly as she studied the options presented to her. It looked like the data pad was meant to store information in the form of log files of various types. There was an option for analytical data, text logs, visual logs, settings, and help. Kyra moved her finger to tap one of the options but a small message appeared in the center of the screen. It read Battery storage critical! Remaining battery life: 12%. Please connect to wireless charging network immediately. It presented her with two buttons, one labelled Connect Now and one labelled Ignore. She tapped the connect button knowing it would fail and when it did, she decided to shut the data pad down and deal with it later, shoving it into her sack as she refocused.
Moving on, Kyra passed through the sleeping quarters and collected a few thin blankets that looked usable. She caught a glint of metal under one of the cots and when she bent down she spotted an unsheathed hunting knife half coated in a dry dark substance. She pried it loose and toyed with it enough to determine that it was still serviceable if a bit dull and in need of cleaning. Tearing a strip of cloth from a ruined sheet on one of the cots she wrapped the blade and stuck the knife in her sack as well. A quick sweep showed her that there was nothing more to find here.
Coming to the final structure Kyra saw that it had collapsed on two sides. It was smaller than the other buildings and might have been a storage unit but there was no clear way to get inside and anything in there was probably long since demolished. She left it alone with the thought that if she got desperate, she could always come back and try her luck. On her way out of the ruins she revisited the mess hall to pick up a small metal pot, a plate, and a cup and placed them in her sack along with the rest of her haul. Now that she’d collected what she could Kyra felt better about her chances of survival. The Necromongers hadn’t come looking for her again but she couldn’t afford to take any chances. She would be better off finding a place to hide somewhere out there in the forest, at least for now. Maybe after a while, when she could be sure she wasn’t hunted anymore, she would come back and try to get some of the communication equipment working.
Kyra felt as though she’d taken most of the day searching the ruins but when she glanced at the sky, the small sun was only just reaching its zenith and the gas giant was in the process of setting again in the east. Had it really only been half a day here? Perhaps the day cycle was longer here than she was used to. Kyra was no astronomer but if the day really was longer, that meant the night was longer as well and if there really was something dangerous out there that had caused the damage she’d seen here at the settlement, she didn’t want to meet it out there in the dark.
Coming to the edge of one of the six support platforms, Kyra spotted a thick anchored rope dangling down. She peeked over the edge and followed it with her eyes to see it end at a matching anchor point far below on one of the large mid-level branches. Next to the upper anchor point she saw broken straps that might once have belonged to a climbing attachment. She reached down and yanked on the rope, pleased that find that it was solid and there appeared to be no fraying sections that she could see. Experimentally, she swung over and climbed down to the branch below. There she found a small torn pack stuck on a splinter of bark a few feet from where she’d landed.
Inside the pack she found three small round flash beacons, all of which worked when she tried them. There was also a grimy roll of gauze wrapping, a sealed packet of painkillers, and mercifully a half-filled canteen of what smelled like water. She added these to her collection and tossed the ruined pack aside. Around her she could see indications that the residents of the settlement had used these huge branches as a sort of byway to get around. They had left markers in some places along connecting branches and there were a few other empty rope anchors attached in some spots where she imagined they would allow access to the ground below. How far down was the ground? If she had any rope to spare she thought she might find out but the only rope she had found so far was the length leading back up to the ruin and she didn’t want to detach it in case she needed to return.
Down here on the mid-level, her eyes began to adjust to the dim light and she could see that it would be much easier to travel long distances at this level if she could find connecting branches. It didn’t look difficult from where she stood. She shifted her pack against the discomfort across her shoulders and picked a random direction to set off on. Kyra wasn’t sure how long the remaining daylight would last but she was certain she could make good time now. It was only a matter of how far she’d go before she felt safe and if she could find some kind of functional shelter.
Chapter 5: Minus 70 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
It took Kyra two days and almost all of her water to find a suitable location to set up camp. The spot she’d discovered was a broad hollow in the trunk of a tree at a cleft of two branches on the mid-level. It was roofed by a thick horizontal cross branch. She’d picked it because of a strange glowing segmented vine that hung down between the two diverging byway branches that seemed to serve as a good landmark. This strange vine wasn’t the first one she had encountered during her trek through the forest but it was much thicker and hung much lower than the others that she had seen. It was also the first one she could look at relatively up close.
The luminescence was emanating from a long tract of pulsing fluid that she could see dimly through the outer layer. It spanned the entire vertical length of the vine from where it appeared through the canopy far above all the way down to a glowing orange bulb impossibly far below. The bulb below pulsed in time with the stem of the vine and it was bright enough that Kyra could see what looked like dark soil just under it and the edge of a small pool nearby. Examining the vine itself, the stretched segments were ringed by a cuff of bristles where they met and something about them warned Kyra that it would be a bad idea to touch them.
So much for free rides, she thought. She had been hoping to use the strange vine as an easy method of travel between the levels of the forest but it had a suspiciously sinister look about it. Best to let it be for now and use it only as a marker. In the meantime, she had found that the tree trunks below the byway level were all covered in thick vertical ridges of bark that she could use sufficiently as hand and foot holds. The climb was rigorous and time consuming but doable and she’d already done it yesterday just to verify that there was actually a ground level.
At the bottom, in near total darkness, she had found a covering of rich soil below a layer of decaying plant matter. Faint specks of light glinted from the unmoving surfaces of innumerable small pools and ponds all around and between the giant trees. Around the base of each tree thick roots curved across the ground like giant snakes, some arching high while others sloped down into the ground and out of view. There was nothing growing on this bottom layer. The air was heavy and close, filled with the smell of rotting vegetation. Kyra’s ears had popped on the way down and here all she heard was complete silence.
Thinking back, Kyra remembered that she had heard a strange animal call on the climb back up to the mid-level. It had been a distinct three syllable sound beginning with a low whoop and followed by two high pitched chirps. The sound had been answered several times from multiple sources at different distances away from the original point somewhere out in the darkness. When she looked for the source she imagined that she had seen glowing eyes in the dark that flashed briefly and were gone. Had that call come from whatever had attacked the settlement? It creeped her out but her gut told her it wasn’t anything quite that terrifying and whatever it was had clearly moved on by now because she hadn’t heard it again.
Kyra stashed her supplies inside the hollow and tossed the empty sack over her shoulder. Above her, the sun winked through the leaves as it started its downward arc. She had worked out in her head that the day cycle felt at least a few hours longer than a typical Earth cycle, maybe by as long as five or six, but she couldn’t be sure without an Earth-standard clock and it was easy to lose track of time in the twilight below the canopy. She picked her way down the trunk of her chosen tree and touched down next to a large sloping root. Nearby, the lamp-like bulb of the vine pulsed with orange light.
Kyra eyed it as she gave it a wide berth, still feeling an odd sense of wrongness about it. Beyond it at the edge of its feeble light, she approached the pool she’d spotted from above. The surface was dark unmoving glass for a long moment until she thought she saw movement below. She turned her body to put the bulb’s glow behind her and as her eyes adjusted she discovered she could see the pale forms of whiskered fish moving below the surface. They weren’t very big but they were plentiful and she thought they would make a good source of protein if she could catch some of them.
For now, she had other things to do and she turned away from the pool to begin stuffing handfuls of soil into her sack. The sack was only big enough to hold a few pounds of soil so she would need to make several trips to bring enough up to the hollow to make a workable floor. She had hoped to discover some kind of worm or insect grub to use as bait for fishing but nothing turned up as she dug. After filling half of her sack, her fingers uncovered a layer of pale porous rock beneath the soil about eight inches down. As she unearthed more of it she wondered if this was the primary material that the moon was composed of. Was this entire moon a giant rocky sponge? It might explain all the bodies of water but how could something like this support the massive trees that seemed to cover the entire moon’s surface?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the same cry she had heard the previous day, once again echoed several times from different sources. She froze in place as she heard a faint scrabbling noise off to her side in the direction of the glowing lamp. Turning her head slowly, she could see several sleek-bodied creatures appearing out of the darkness around her, one of them climbing effortlessly down the trunk she had used earlier. She counted seven bodies of varying size as they approached the pool, seemingly unaware of her presence for the moment.
They practically slithered like snakes when they moved, their bodies covered in dark brown wiry hairs that shimmered with an oily sheen in the bulb’s pale glow. Their heads were small and round with short whiskered muzzles and small blunt ears. Each of their four feet seemed to be split with two forward-facing and two backward-facing toes ending in broad claw tipped pads. Finally, they had long tails that looked prehensile. She thought they looked like something vaguely familiar, an Earth-based water loving creature, but she couldn’t think of it in that moment. She shifted to get a better look at them and the movement instantly brought seven pairs of glowing eyes up to fix on her.
For one long and agonizing moment none of them moved. Then, as though reacting to some silent cue, four of the seven creatures darted away into the darkness while the three largest pack members slithered closer to her menacingly, small jaws full of sharp teeth flashing as they growled. The noise reminded her of two jagged stones grinding together and it grated painfully on her eardrums. She backed away a few steps hoping they would get the idea that she wasn’t a threat but they followed, trying to run her off.
The noise must have triggered something with regard to the glowing bulb just behind and to the side of them because the pulsing of the light increased. Kyra watched, horrified, as the heavy bulb swayed and then swung slowly toward the nearest creature. It unfolded into four fleshy petal-like parts lined inside by a row of wicked hooks. At the base of each petal a tentacle ending in a curved spine unfurled towards the unsuspecting creature. In the center of the strange flower she saw a small round orifice that oozed an unknown gooey substance, the acrid smell of which hit her just as the tentacles were reaching their intended victim.
That victim screeched as the tentacles wrapped around its rear half and sunk their spines into flesh. The reaction from the other two creatures was immediate. They spun around and paused long enough to register what had happened and then fled in the direction of the rest of their pack while their comrade struggled against the pull of the death flower. Kyra was stunned by how quickly they had abandoned their pack member. Its screeches tore at her very soul. She had to do something, anything, to help it.
Reaching for her waist she found the handle of the hunting knife and ran towards the captured animal. Even now, it growled at her angrily as if to warn her off. She took a bit of artistic liberty and imagined it was telling her to stay back for her own safety. She slashed at the tentacles holding it and severed one of them but the vine creature ignored her efforts and continued to pull its prey closer. Trying again, she severed a second tentacle and this time the glowing flower released the animal with a strange gurgling noise. It thrashed its remaining tentacles in her direction but she danced out of range as the bulb retracted and closed itself again.
Okay, Kyra thought, don’t get near those bastards. Good to know.
The creature, now free of immediate danger, scrabbled well out of reach of the bulb and pulled at the limp tentacles still wrapped around its body. The spines came out with a brief gush of blood and Kyra crouched as she watched the animal tend to its wounds with a long bristled tongue. Up close she could finally tell that it was nearly six feet long, although a good third of that length was taken up by its tail. After a few minutes the creature turned to glare at her as if to say don’t you have anything better to do? Truthfully she did but the animal was now between her and her sack of dirt and in its agitated state she didn’t want to piss it off again. So she waited and watched and eventually the creature slithered away into the shadows with a momentary pause to glance back at her when she retrieved her sack.
Kyra wondered if she would ever see it again. Ultimately it didn’t matter. Those animals were clearly vicious and she wasn’t out here to make friends. She made the rest of her dirt gathering trips without event, making sure to steer very clear of the death bulb, and by the time the sun was setting she had smoothed out a decent dirt floor in her chosen den. She had even rounded out a small pit in which to light a fire. She settled in with a blanket, resolving to collect some of the dried dead wood at the ground level tomorrow. On a whim, she pulled out the data pad again and turned it on, flicking through the various welcome screens and thankful that she’d remembered the password correctly.
When the low battery warning popped up she tapped Ignore and noticed that the screen brightness automatically dimmed by a significant amount. She tapped on the section titled Analytical Data but most of the files she skimmed there were full of raw numbers in tables and graphs that she didn’t understand. She backed up to the main menu and tapped on the section titled Text Logs. There she found a few sub-categories, one of which seemed to contain a few entries about various lifeforms the settlers had studied. She tapped on an entry titled Lamp Worms and scrolled through the text and images within.
Common Name(s): Lamp Worm
Scientific Name: Undesignated
Taxonomy: Mostly undefined, suspected Arthropoda -> Insecta
Lifespan: Unknown, suspected annual or seasonal life cycle
Diet: Carnivorous, mostly small animals
Notes: Ambush predator in larval stages, adult form currently unobserved, bioluminescent
The images were unmistakable. The strange bulbous vines were actually giant insects. It explained what she’d seen earlier but the thought that she was living so close to one of them sent a chill down her spine. Still, it didn’t seem particularly active or aggressive unless disturbed. So long as she was careful to avoid getting too close she didn’t think her creepy neighbor would become a problem. The next entry she looked at was titled Shroom Shells.
Common Name(s): Shroom Shell, Shroom Tortoise, Mushroom Walker
Scientific Name: Undesignated
Taxonomy: Reptilia, Testudinidae, undesignated genus and species
Lifespan: Unknown, suspected to be exceptionally long
Diet: Herbivorous, appears to feed on fallen plant matter
Notes: Travels in large family groups, very protective of offspring
There was only one image accompanying the file and it was mostly dark with a few lumbering shapes outlined faintly. She wondered if these were ground level creatures and if she’d see them at some point. She backed out and chose another file titled Okifi.
Common Name(s): Okifi, Otter Gecko
Scientific Name: Undesignated
Taxonomy: Undefined, possibly mammalian or reptilian
Lifespawn: Unknown, suspected to be approx. 7 to 10 years
Diet: Carnivorous, primarily insects and fish
Notes: Lives in small family groups, highly aggressive protectors, suspected high intelligence
The picture showed an amusing shot of two growling animals that looked identical to those she had crossed paths with earlier. The red glow of their reflective eyes gave them a demonic look. Kyra wondered if whoever took that picture had caught them by surprise the same way she had. She mouthed the name Okifi and it reminded her of the three syllable calls the animals made. The name must have originated from those calls and it fit so she decided to start using it to refer to them.
She yawned as she flicked through other entries and subcategories. One subcategory listed a number of fruits and nuts found growing in the upper canopy that had been tested and were considered either safe or unsafe for human consumption. She did her best to memorize the information there before finally shutting the data pad down once again. The battery level had dropped by two percent during her usage of it so Kyra made a mental note to be as careful with her time on it as she could. There might be critical information somewhere in those logs that would be lost to her forever if she let the battery die too quickly.
She set the data pad aside in a safe spot and rolled over onto her side, curling herself into a ball. The darkness of her den closed in around her and she found her mind filling up with thoughts of Riddick. She had known this was to come at last but the rush of it was stronger than she expected. Tears welled thickly in her eyes as the image of him dead on that runway came back to her. The Jack side of her trembled at the thought that she would never see him again after everything he’d done for her, after everything he’d said to her back on Crematoria. It already felt like a lifetime ago.
There in that prison he had come to her. Riddick had allowed himself to get captured after five years of hiding just so he could find her there. Just so he could pull her out. He would never have admitted that she was the reason he was there but Kyra knew the moment she saw him. She also knew he would be furious with her. She didn’t care. She was different now, or so she kept telling herself. She was stronger, faster, harder than the little girl Riddick still saw her as. But how could she convince him that she was worthy of his trust when he’d needed to track her down in the bowels of a triple max slam?
In the end, childish as ever, she’d made the mistake of telling him that she had signed up with mercs to come looking for him. The disgust and disappointment in his glowing eyes then had burned her to the core. There were some many ways she could have explained why she did it but it wouldn’t have mattered. Riddick wouldn’t have cared that it was the only way Kyra had any hope of crossing paths with him again. He wouldn’t have cared that her only intention was to use them the way they ended up using her, that all she ever wanted was to be by his side. In his eyes, she’d swapped allegiances and broken his trust and at the time she hadn’t been sure she would ever get a chance to earn it back.
It had taken a thirty kilometer run across the planet’s hellish landscape on Riddick’s heels for her to prove that she could keep up with him, that she was worth his time and effort, and even then she’d needed to be rescued again. Cowering in her alcove on that burning wall of rock, Kyra truly feared that this time Riddick would leave her behind, leave her to her fate as he had so many others before. When he swept her away to safety, quite literally risking his own skin in the process, all she could think was how am I ever going to make up for this? No matter how many times she let him down, he kept coming back for her, kept extended his hand to her, kept pushing her forward. To her, Riddick was everything. He was the only person in the entire ‘verse that mattered, and now he was gone.
Kyra’s curled body shook with her loss and she found it difficult to breathe through her choking sobs. The wound bled and bled and her tears spilled and soaked into the packed soil beneath her, staining it black. She hadn’t even noticed that she’d begun to whisper his name over and over again into the night air like a chant to ward off evil. After a long time, the tears dried up and her body stilled. Kyra slept for a great many hours after that and somewhere below her den, a pair of eyes gleamed in the shadows.
Chapter 6: Minus 67 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Don’t touch the red ones or the yellow ones, Kyra reminded herself as she moved through the upper canopy, searching for the fruits she’d learned about from the data pad. There were so many different kinds and a lot of them were red or yellow or both but she couldn’t recall exactly what the descriptions said about the dangerous ones. She could only remember that the blue and purple fruits and all of the nuts were safe. To be fair, most of the red or yellow fruits were probably safe too but she couldn’t afford to risk running the data pad’s battery down any further just to look the information up when she had safer options.
For now, she filled her sack with as many verified safe fruits and nuts as she could find and when she couldn’t fit any more in without squishing them, she headed back down to her den to store them away. Her backup rations were gone and Kyra was starting to worry about finding a good source of protein. Sure, she had a few handfuls of nuts but those wouldn’t last long and the amount of protein they contained was too small to be considered a primary source. Her mind turned again to the fish she’d observed swimming in the small pool on the ground level. She had to find a way to catch them or hunt something big that she could harvest meat from.
Leaning against one of the walls of her den was a short length of sharpened branch that Kyra had crafted into a crude spear. She grabbed it, slid it sideways through the straps of her sack, and hopped out to begin the climb down to the ground. At the bottom she gave the pulsating lamp worm a quick once over to remind it that she knew what it was capable of. As usual, it simply hung there motionless and said nothing in return. Moving to the edge of the pool, Kyra pulled her spear out and put her back to the lamp worm’s glow, waiting for her eyes to adjust. The fish slowly became discernable as they meandered below the smooth surface of the water. The water itself was surprisingly clear and clean. Kyra still boiled it to be sure whenever she collected more for drinking but it looked and smelled pristine. She raised her spear and poised the tip, waiting for the right moment.
She struck with lightning speed, her spear plunging into the water and missing her target completely. The fish scattered in an indistinct flurry of motion as she pulled back. Sighing, she held herself still and waited for the waters to calm and the fish to venture into view again. She’d forgotten about the refraction of light and it had bitten her in the ass. This time she calculated where her target was actually going to be and struck again. And again, she missed. The little fuckers were fast, she had to grant them that. Kyra tried a few more times before she threw her makeshift spear down in frustration and howled into the shadows.
“Why the fuck isn’t this working,” she snarled aloud. The sound of her own voice startled her and she wasn’t the only one who heard it. She heard a rustling on the other side of the pool and met the gleaming eyes of the injured Okifi she had rescued days earlier. As she watched, it slid into the pool with barely a ripple and slipped down into the waters. Kyra nearly held her breath as she waited for it to come back up. It took several minutes but eventually the Okifi burst from the pool at the same point where it had entered with a fish flapping madly in its jaws. It curled itself around its catch, glared at Kyra as if to gloat, and ripped into it. To Kyra, the sound of the animal’s wet smacking and crunching felt like a slap in the face.
“Asshole,” she huffed and the Okifi’s ears twitched. She picked up her spear and turned to leave but was stopped by a short, quick chirp. Looking over her shoulder she saw that the Okifi had stopped eating and was staring fixedly off into the forest to her right. When it chirped again more insistently she followed its gaze. There, some distance ahead she saw huge shapes moving slowly between the massive tree trunks. By the sounds of feeding continuing behind her it seemed that the Okifi wasn’t alarmed so she left it there to find out what those shapes were. What she saw left her mouth agape and her eyes wide.
There must have been at least twenty huge turtle-like creatures walking in a herd through the forest. The largest stood easily two stories high and the smallest, huddling in the center of the herd, were close to her own height. They had wide shells on their backs that spread out like round caps and they walked on four tall wrinkled limbs that resembled stalks. Their heads peeked out of their shells high above and as she watched, one of them extended its head down toward the crowd of young ones at what seemed like an impossible length. She thought those necks must be as long as their legs or more by the way it extended.
Kyra thought back to what she’d read on the data pad. These must be the Shroom Shells that were mentioned in one of the entries. They were slow and big but they seemed harmless. She wondered if it would be difficult to bring one of them down. Just one of those things would feed her for weeks before spoiling. She thought rapidly about how best to hunt them as she followed them through the forest. They stopped in a wide tract of open ground between two trunks and began grazing on clumps of recently dropped vegetation from above, crunching softly on leaves and fallen fruit. Watching them graze, an idea came to her. It would take some time to set up but she had a trap in mind that would bring one of them down easily so she could finish it off. Tomorrow, she would begin her work.
Chapter 7: Minus 66 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Kyra spent most of her day traveling from the upper canopy to the ground level, carrying loads of fruit and clumps of green branches she harvested from above. She spent another several hours covering a larger pond near the Shroom Shells’ grazing area with leaf litter. As she did so she watched them meander around their stopping point and willed them to stick around just a little bit longer. Don’t go anywhere, she thought to them, I have something you’ll like. I promise.
When the pond was sufficiently covered, she dragged her collected goodies over to it and stacked them up in a pile on the opposite side from where the giant turtles were feeding. Now, all she had to do was have patience and hope they took the bait. She waited until the sun set and it became too dark for her to see before giving up for the night and returning to her den. That night, she fell asleep to dreams of roasting turtle meat.
Chapter 8: Minus 65 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
A heavy thud reverberated through the tree and startled Kyra awake. She looked around in alarm but couldn’t see or hear anything out of place. She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes as her brain worked it over. Then she remembered that she’d set a turtle trap the day before. With childish glee she grabbed her sack and her knife and swung herself out of her den to make her way back down the tree. The more times she made this trip, the better she was getting at climbing. She supposed that was a good thing since it had been her shitty climbing skills that nearly got her left behind back on Crematoria.
When she hit the ground, Kyra took off in the direction of the trap she’d set. Coming around the massive tree trunk that blocked her view she saw a large crumpled lump where the pond should have been. She whooped as she ran to the fallen turtle to survey her accomplishment. The beast had done exactly what she hoped it would do and stepped into the pond as it tried to approach the bait on the other side. It was now wedged hopelessly on its side with the stuck limb twisted at an unnatural angle. It rumbled deep in its chest as she neared its retracted head.
The thing stared unblinking at her with beady black eyes. Its beak opened and closed slowly with each labored breath. Kyra felt a momentary pang of guilt for having caused its suffering but there was no saving it now. She drew her hunting knife and approached the base of the turtle’s neck. Sensing danger, it tried to retract its head further but the angle prevented it from completely pulling back. She placed a hand gently on the underside of the creature’s jaw as she brought her blade to the soft folds of its throat. Then she drove the blade in and put all her weight behind it as she tore downward, slicing the creature’s throat wide and causing a hot rush of blood to spray out onto the ground. The creature’s final breath expelled slowly from the gaping wound and it twitched feebly as it died. Kyra looked away.
It was strange to react to this animal’s death the way she did. She’d killed people before without remorse but each of them had wronged her or threatened her in some way. To her, death had become a familiar friend. After all, the one man she cared about was death incarnate. But this was different. This great beast was innocent in its simplicity. She didn’t know if these creatures had any kind of awareness but they felt old and wise to her somehow, gentle and graceful. She whispered an apology to the corpse, feeling as though she had done something wrong but knowing that she didn’t have choice. Would Riddick have done this too if he were in her place? She wanted to think he would have but the realist in her told her that he wouldn’t have ended up in this situation to begin with, making the point moot.
She shook her gloom off as the giant body grew cold. It was done now and she should make the most of it while she still could. She set to work on one of the creature’s legs, carving several slabs of meat from the long bones and setting them aside. As she set the third slab down she heard a chirp and looked up to find the Okifi watching her hungrily from a few feet away. She stood up slowly and sheathed her knife so she could cross her arms and glare smugly at the animal.
“Oh, I get it. Mine’s bigger so now you want to share.”
The Okifi lifted its whiskered muzzle and sniffed the air gratuitously. It then licked its lips and chirped at her again. Kyra considered the request long and hard. If she fed this thing, it would probably come to expect her to do so every time she had something it wanted a piece of. On the other hand, if she could earn its trust it would be a valuable companion to have considering its heightened senses and night vision. My own little Riddick, she thought sardonically. She wasn’t even sure if the creature was male or female. With a resigned sigh she bent to pick up her slabs of meat and nodded her head at the corpse behind her.
“Fine, go for it,” she said and started fitting the slabs into her sack. The Okifi slinked past and started sniffing the section she had cut into. When it found what she assumed was a good spot it wasted no time in tearing away and gulping down strips of flesh. As she watched it feed, Kyra noted that the wounds it had sustained from the lamp worm’s attack were well on their way to healing. She hoisted her sack onto her shoulder and turned to the feeding Okifi.
“Hey,” she barked at it, drawing its attention. “Try to save me some, okay?” The creature blinked once at her and resumed its frantic feasting.
By the time Kyra dropped of her load of meat and returned to the corpse, the Okifi was gone and a large section of the leg she had started was missing. She had to wonder how the hell it could fit that much meat into its slender body and imagined the thing slithering around like a bloated blob. She stifled a laugh at the image in her head and got to work on carving more slabs. Kyra was glad that the temperature on this level of the forest was about ten degrees lower than the upper layers. It meant that the body would remain viable for much longer so she could safely harvest meat for potentially weeks before she would have to abandon it. The lack of apparent scavengers down here worried her, though. Surely when one of these things died naturally there would be something other than the Okifi to clean it up. Maybe there were creatures that would take care of it that she just hadn’t seen yet.
Her question was answered almost immediately by a strange clicking sound coming from somewhere high above her head. She looked up and caught a silhouetted flash of movement on one of the mid-level branches. A chill ran down her spine. Whatever that was, it had been big. She brushed it off and cut another slab of meat to set aside. As she set it down the clicking sound returned, this time much closer and in the direction of a nearby tree trunk. She peered in that direction but saw nothing this time and the chill hit her again. The urge to run seized her violently but she chose to draw her knife instead, now studying her surroundings. She waited, coiled like a spring, and listened.
The clicking sound came again from behind her and she spun around with the blade raised to face the dead turtle. Confused, she raked its body with her eyes and when she reached the top she saw a long segmented thing crawl up and over the edge of the shell, hundreds of legs undulating as it moved. It was flat bodied and as wide as one of the turtle’s legs. Its head writhed with pairs of grasping limbs that made up its mouthparts. Multiple pairs of eyes glinted as it twisted and coiled around the dead turtle, seeming not to notice her at all. As she watched, a pair of long antennae swept over the corpse with each movement, feeling or smelling or sensing. One of those antennae passed within inches of her and the huge insect froze as if to process this new sensory information.
Kyra took one step back, the sound of her footstep breaking its trance. With nightmarish fluidity and speed, the giant centipede crawled towards her, the grasping palps extended and reaching for her. Time slowed as Kyra watched the thing come closer, unable to will herself to move. It was only a few feet away, then one foot, then a matter of inches. A flash of brown from somewhere nearby slammed into the centipede’s head as it was practically on top of her and a grating growl woke her into action. The Okifi leapt away as the insect recoiled and swiveled to grab at it, missing easily. Kyra staggered backward and ran for her life, followed by the clicking of the giant insect’s mouthparts. Thankfully, the creature gave up the chase after about twenty feet in favor of the easy meal left behind.
As she came to a stop and looked back, Kyra could dimly see more centipedes arriving from elsewhere in the forest to converge on the dead turtle. In mere moments they covered the thing and their chattering was a deafening dirge as they fed. It was too late to go back now, Kyra realized. She would have to wait it out and hope there would be something left to salvage tomorrow. Defeated, she returned to her den and curled up, wishing there had been something in the data pad’s notes to warn her about these scavengers.
Chapter 9: Minus 64 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
In the morning, Kyra checked the turtle and found it completely picked clean. The only remains left were the bones, a few shreds of wrinkled skin, and the wide shell. She cursed her own fate and spent the rest of the day collecting bones that she thought might come in handy. While she picked the barren corpse over, she noticed that the shell’s upper surface had a faint orange glow. She ran a hand over it, feeling its rough bark-like texture and following the deep crevices between each raised plate. Between the plates she saw that the glow was a bit more concentrated and seemed to be coming from some kind of fuzzy coating. On any other day she might have taken a moment to ponder this. As things were, she just couldn’t bring herself the bother with it. She set the observation aside and went on with her bleak salvage operation.
Chapter 10: Minus 63 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
The blood came the next morning and Kyra had to curse her fate yet again. Of all afflictions she had ever dealt with, this one was her most hated. Proof that she was an adult and proof that she was a woman. It had nearly been the death of her on the planet she had escaped with Riddick five years ago. It had also been proof that she was barter and prey for men. Thinking of the giant centipedes from the night before last, she worried that the scent of blood would draw them to her hiding place. Kyra hadn’t planned on dealing with this when she scavenged the settlement over a week ago. She made the difficult choice to sacrifice one of her blankets to make strips of cloth that she could use to catch the blood. What she did with it afterwards was still an issue.
For lack of any better ideas, she decided to take the soiled strips of cloth and hang them far away from her den in the hopes of drawing potential predators away from her little nest. To test this, she hung the first strip two trees over and half way down the lower trunk. The following morning it was gone.
Chapter 11: Minus 58 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
There was something different in the air when Kyra woke that morning. She washed herself with her pot of boiled water as usual, glad that her bleeding had finally stopped. She dressed as usual, not bothering to put an extra layer on because the temperature had risen recently to a slightly more comfortable level. She cut a piece of her dwindling supply of dried turtle meat as usual, chasing it down with a piece of sour purple fruit and a few bitter nuts. She slid out of her den as usual to say good morning to the lamp worm and paused. The lamp worm was gone.
She looked up and down but saw no evidence of it or that it had ever been there at all. Curiosity drove her to head down to the ground level but there was nothing there that she could see. The area that had previously been lit by the worm’s bioluminescence was dark and foreboding and empty. A flash of glowing eyes near the pool informed her that her Okifi friend was nearby. It chirped at her in greeting as she approached.
“Any idea what happened to that thing?”
The Okifi stared silently and made no reply.
“Guess not,” she said with a smirk as she felt her way to the edge of the pool by memory. She wished for the hundredth time that she had eyes like Riddick. Kyra had no idea what she was doing leaning over and peering into the dark pool as if she would be able to see anything now. She stared longingly down into the waters and imagined that she could see those fish swimming around like a promise never kept. It took her a moment to realize that what she was seeing wasn’t her imagination.
“Holy shit,” she breathed as she watched the fish swirl down below, a very faint glow painting their scales. The worms apparently weren’t the only thing with bioluminescence on this moon but it was clear that the fish themselves weren’t glowing. It was as if they’d literally been painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. She didn’t even know where to begin to explain that one. She would never have noticed if the lamp worm hadn’t suddenly disappeared. She looked over to where the Okifi’s eyes still gleamed as it watched her. Come to think of it, with how dark it was down here, how could the Okifi’s eyes glow like that without enough light to reflect? Suddenly it all clicked into place.
This entire level of the forest was laced with something that emitted a natural glow. The lamp worms, the Okifi’s eyes, the giant turtles’ shells, and whatever was coating the fish; all of it came from something prevalent in the environment. Be it a chemical or bug or bacteria, whatever it was made it possible for creatures like the Okifi and the fish to survive, drawn to whatever light they could find. It was probably how the lamp worms could survive despite their passive ambush tactics. Everything here was drawn to light, even the tiniest bit of it. Kyra recalled the flash beacons she had found near the settlement. If she couldn’t catch fish with brute force, maybe she could do it with a bit of finesse and tactics. With new inspiration and renewed optimism, she returned to her den and set herself to work.
That night, when she felt her contraption was ready, she carried it down to the pool with the glowing fish and dropped it in. She attached one of her flash beacons to it and left it to do its work, going to sleep with the satisfaction of someone who has finally solved a great mystery.
Chapter 12: Minus 57 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
When Kyra checked her improvised fish trap in the morning, she told herself she would be happy if just one fish was caught in it. She hadn’t been overly confident in the design but she’d heard about the basic concept from one of the other inmates in the prison. Apparently the man had spent a lot of time far away from civilization and had learned a few tricks about wilderness survival. When she finally reached the pool, she discovered to her overwhelming delight that she’d caught five fish. Five! The damned thing actually worked!
She howled in victory and hauled the trap onto land as her catch splashed defiantly within the wood and bone structure. Removing the fish from the trap proved tricky as they were unexpectedly slimy but she eventually got them out and strung them up on a short piece of braided plant fiber cord she’d been working on in her spare time for the last week. One fish she set aside so that when the Okifi arrived in response to her noise, she held it out readily. The animal trotted over without hesitation and gingerly clamped its teeth around the fish to take it from her hand.
“I think I’ll call you Flicker,” she said as the Okifi hunkered down and gnawed contentedly on the fish, powerful jaws flexing with each crunch. It twitched its small ears at her words but otherwise did not react. Satisfied, Kyra returned to her den and started the process of cleaning and gutting the fish. She rewarded herself that night by turning on the data pad and browsing through the video logs. She had done this once before and burned another two percent of battery life but she felt she’d earned another go at it after her victory that day. Besides, she really needed to find some kind of information that would help her fix the communication equipment or get power restored to the settlement. She thought there had to be some clue somewhere in these logs as to what went wrong and how to fix it. After she’d drained one percent and made no progress, she shut the pad down again and put it away.
Chapter 13: Minus 52 days, Ruined Settlement, IG-4
There was nothing usable here. Absolutely nothing. Kyra spat a curse as she tossed the destroyed solar panel aside. She’d returned to the ruined settlement to look over the power and communications equipment but it was all completely mangled beyond any hope of repair. She was certain that a place like this must have at least a portable emergency beacon stashed somewhere. But she’d found nothing in the logs to tell her where it could be or if there even was one here. It was a two day journey from here to her den and it pained her to think that she’d come all the way back here for nothing. She kicked the nearest solid thing she could see which happened to be a thin sheet of metal wall paneling. She felt a little bit satisfied when it crumpled like a thin cloth under the force of her strike.
At the very least she could collect a few more bundles of cloth or a couple of blankets before she headed back. She made a stop in the sleeping quarters and stuffed a few musty blankets in her sack before dropping down the rope to the byways. On her way back, Kyra wondered if the Necromongers had ever come back to look for her and if the crashed ship was still hanging where she’d left it. The temperature had been slowly rising again, signaling an official change of season on the way. Would all of this forest cover start to change with the coming of summer? Did it all shrivel and fall off in the winter time? She imagined the vines that held the derelict vessel shriveling up and breaking, sending the remains crashing to the ground far below or perhaps into a lake to sink down and be lost forever. Good riddance.
A chirp behind her told Kyra that Flicker was nearby. She didn’t bother to look for the animal and simply enjoyed the thought of its presence haunting her steps. It wasn’t a pet by any means, merely a companion that had come to accept and trust her. So what if it was following her everywhere now? So what if she was sharing her food without question. She thought of it as something of a relationship of convenience for both of them. She traded sustenance in return for the animal’s special talents, and it was more than willing to lend her the benefit of its watchfulness and the advantage of its night vision. Her own little Riddick.
The phrase once again twisted her gut like a knife blade but her steps didn’t falter this time. She had come to terms with the loss of him over the last few weeks while she was trying to learn how to survive here. It helped that she simply hadn’t had time to think much about him. Still, it was the little reminders that kept him there in the back of her mind and kept reopening the wound. Her thoughts turned to what she would do and where she would go when she eventually left this moon behind. She couldn’t think of any place that would feel like home now. Even the idea of living with Imam in New Mecca put a sour taste in her mouth. Imam cared for her and she respected him but he would have her cleaned up and civilized with a white collar around her neck. Kyra would never have that.
She shook her head to dispel the thought and briefly entertained the idea of staying here forever. She had figured out how to survive and was settling into a comfortable routine. She could easily keep it up if she planned for the seasonal changes and kept herself honed and fit. A good training routine would help her stay occupied in her spare time, particularly after the data pad finally died. That wouldn’t be long now. Maybe this was the best place for her to be, wild and free, away from humanity. Here, she could be as much of an animal as she wanted to be and there would be no one around to look at her with those hungry looks, no Imam to sigh and shake his head in disappointment, no Riddick to throw her up against a wall and … she crushed that train of thought before it went somewhere dangerous.
No, she couldn’t stay here. Eventually she would have to go back. Back to all the brightness and everything she hated. She wished he could be there.
Chapter 14: Minus 38 days, The Basilica, Somewhere In Deep Space
Riddick swiped one planet after the next into and out of view on the screen in his personal chambers. Here aboard the huge monstrosity of the Basilica, among the Necromongers he now supposedly led, Riddick was officially bored. These peacocking idiots wouldn’t leave him the hell alone every time he stepped out of his rooms so he’d taken to staying in them more often than not. Their solution to that had been to assume that he needed some entertainment in the form of food or sexual pleasure. At first, he’d been okay with that. The food he didn’t care much about but the women had been enjoyable. At least until he discovered two things about them.
First, they all seemed to have a thing for pain, as if their bodies were dulled to the finer subtleties of erotic pleasure. Riddick had no qualms about giving it to a woman rough but they wanted it damn near bloody and that was just fucked up. He saw more than enough blood and gore on a regular basis without the need to add it into his sex life. The second thing he’d noticed - and this had been slowly getting to him the longer he stuck around - was that everything and everyone around him reeked of death. It was a subtle stink of rot that permeated everything around him now and no matter how long he stayed here he never seemed to get used to it. It had progressed to the point where he no longer wanted anything to do with the women that insisted on camping in his bed chamber, refusing to let him rest. Just because he rarely ever slept deeply, it didn’t mean he never needed to rest.
Riddick flicked more vigorously through the files he was browsing. More planets and reports on those planets zipped by as his eyes skimmed the text for anything that might look interesting. If anyone were to ask him why he was doing this he would have told them he was bored. The real reason? He was looking for a good vacation spot, preferably as far away from this place as possible without risking the slip of the reins. Like it or not, Riddick still had a use for this army of death. Unfortunately, he hadn’t yet been able to get hold of what he wanted from them. Half the time he wasn’t even sure what it was he wanted. He just knew that there was something out there, calling to him, and he had to find it.
He heard the pad of bare feet and caught the swell of feminine scent long before the woman entered the room. He knew it was one of the consorts come looking for him but he didn’t bother to acknowledge her presence even when she walked right up to him. She smelled of frustration and boredom. And death. Always death. With an overly dramatic sigh she wrapped a cold arm around his bicep and rested her head against his shoulder.
“Lord Marshal, it’s late. We miss your company,” she whined in a tone of voice that she probably thought was sexy. “Please come and visit with us. We only want to make you happy.”
She gave his arm an insistent tug and utterly failed to budge him. When he continued to ignore her, she switched to a new tactic. The woman crossed in front of his view so that he was forced to look at her. She then kneeled in front of him and ran a hand over his crotch as she looked up at him, holding his blank gaze. She rubbed his dick through the fabric of his pants for a few awkward minutes, trying and failing to get a rise out of him. When he’d had enough of this foolishness he pulled her up and off of him by her hair.
She hissed at the pain and he would have felt a tiny bit of satisfaction were it not for the fact that he knew she enjoyed it. He moved her bodily to the side and out his line of sight and went right back to flipping through the records. She put her hands on her slender hips and pouted like a child at the treatment.
“Why don’t you ever play with us anymore, Lord Marshal?” she spat. “We haven’t enjoyed your company in weeks. Weeks! Tell me why!”
Riddick paused and sighed. It was clear the woman wouldn’t be brushed aside this time. She was one of the worst, as evidenced by her blatant embellishment. It had only been just over a week since he’d last fucked one of them. It hadn’t been her, of course. He no longer cared whether she was insulted or complained to whoever had stationed her here. All he wanted was to be left the fuck alone so he could finish what he was doing. He turned his head to look at her directly, locking his glowing eyes on her in the dim light of the room, and he told her the truth.
“Because you stink.”
He then turned his attention back to the screen. There was a long and blissful silence while the woman stood there shocked. Then the angry sputtering started and for a second Riddick wondered if she intended to hit him. That would be new. It would also be entertaining, at least for a little while. Instead, the woman spun on her heel and quite literally stomped her half-naked ass right out the door and into the hall beyond, nearly plowing into Lord Vaako as he was preparing to knock.
Riddick watched her go with mild interest. She may have reeked of death but she did have a nice ass. Idly, he found himself comparing it to one he’d seen - albeit clothed - not long ago. One that belonged to someone he’d pulled kicking and screaming out of a triple-max slam only to lose track of shortly before killing the former Lord Marshal. One he privately believed was now dead and gone. Her ass had definitely been nicer.
Riddick went back to his file flipping for the second time today as Vaako entered the room. The general was doing that silent you-don’t-see-me thing he liked to do sometimes to test Riddick. He’d done it to the previous Lord Marshal on occasion as well. It never worked but the poor guy just kept trying. This time, Riddick let him get within arm’s reach before he spoke up, just for fun, not even bothering to look.
He heard the man stop dead in his tracks and exhale lightly, realizing he’d failed again.
“I’ve been hearing … complaints from the other generals,” Vaako said behind his teeth, attempting to mask his annoyance, “and after seeing that little display just now, I have to wonder if they don’t have a point.” He moved to Riddick’s right and appeared in his peripheral vision, an ominous dark thing with ominous dark armor and a haircut that made him look ridiculous. Vaako was waiting for Riddick to respond but Riddick had stopped listening a few seconds into his drawled speech. He had paused his flipping on a small report that caught his eye. As he read it, his interest piqued more and more.
The report was very brief and it detailed the last known status of a frigate that was lost shortly after leaving Crematoria several weeks ago. Vaako was reading it as well, now. The frigate mentioned in the report had been the one that landed that day and delivered Vaako and his troops into the costly battle with the prison guards and Riddick’s little band of escaped convicts. The scarce information in the report claimed that the frigate had left Crematoria and, minutes after meeting up with a warship around a gas giant named Ignis and offloading Vaako and most of his remaining force, the ship had been hijacked by some unknown person. It was pursued and shot down over one of the planet’s moons, IG-4, and was never recovered. The status simply said “MIA” at the bottom of the page.
Vaako vaguely recalled hearing something about it on his way back to report his victory on Crematoria. The idea had seemed ludicrous so he’d simply ignored it and focused on what mattered most to him at the time. Riddick, however, made a connection there that no one else would have. Suddenly, he felt his blood come alive. There was only one person that could possibly have successfully stowed away on that frigate and hijacked it. And if the ship was never recovered, there was at least a small chance that the person in question could have survived the crash. And if she survived, that meant he had somewhere to be, fast.
Beside him, Vaako shifted. Riddick could feel the man’s eyes on him and he knew he was grinning despite himself. He hoped it creeped Vaako out. Without taking his eyes off the screen, Riddick questioned him.
“Know anything about this?” he asked lightly, doing his best to make it seem like simple curiosity.
“Not much,” Vaako said, “other than what’s already in the report. I wasn’t on the ship when it went missing. Obviously.”
“And the planet?”
“There’s a write-up on it somewhere you can read,” Vaako offered with a shrug. “All the moons are uninhabited so there’s no reason for us to do anything with it. We use it sometimes as a layover stop. Why the sudden interest?” The casual familiarity in Vaako’s tone belied his true intent. If Riddick had fixated on this moon and the lost ship that was somewhere on it, Vaako wanted to know why and if this information could be of use to him. He still had an ace up his sleeve that he knew would work on Riddick but if he could get away with not having to use it, all the better.
“There’s something on that moon that belongs to me. I’m gonna go get it,” Riddick returned as he finally faced Vaako standing beside him.
There was a fire burning behind Riddick’s reflective eyes that scorched Vaako. He swallowed minutely as he remembered the true strength Riddick possessed that had allowed him to overcome the former Lord Marshal and thereby claim the throne.
“And the generals?” Vaako asked, but Riddick was already moving, already half way out the door.
“Tell ‘em I’m cashing in my vacation time,” and then he was gone.
After he left, Vaako looked at the screen for a long time trying to think of what could possibly be so damned important that Riddick had to leave immediately just to retrieve it. For the unlife of him, he could think of nothing.
Chapter 15: Minus 37 days, Necromonger Jump Ship, Somewhere In Deep Space
On his way out, Riddick had picked up a few things from his personal vault on the Basilica. Items he’d stashed there just in case something unexpected happened. A number of his favorite blades, a few untraceable credit chips, and a few other supplies he thought he might need for this trip. It was part of his policy to be prepared for anything and with all the nothing that was going on up until this point, he was willing to take anything when he got it. This, however, was even better than he could have hoped.
Sitting in the pilot seat of the jump ship he’d snatched without asking or caring, he set an auto-pilot course for the moon that was to be the staging ground for his next hunt. Once that was done, he accessed the file on Ignis and its moons, skimming forward until he found the page that talked specifically about IG-4. Everything he read said the planet was a lush green paradise that was loaded with water, air, and resources. It had an odd sponge-like crust and its summer and winter seasons were weirdly short compared to the spring and fall. Otherwise it seemed like the ideal place for human encroachment. Yet the planet was very clearly labeled uninhabitable. Adjusted, whatever the fuck that was supposed to mean.
It probably meant there had to be some nasty surprise waiting there somewhere. Just like on that fucked up desert planet where he and Jack had met. Where all but three people had been killed. The trick was to figure out how that surprise was going to play out. Based on the fact that there was an old ruined settlement, it was clear that humans had lived there successfully for at least a few months. He knew settlers preferred to land and start setting up at the beginning of spring, or whatever passed for a growing season on whatever shit hole they thought they could tame. He also knew that big changes usually happened during the extreme seasons on places like this moon. That told him that the most likely time to really start worrying in this case would be summer.
Riddick punched a few buttons and did some quick mental math, counting days in his head based on the seasonal variance map of IG-4 that was attached to the write-up. It would take him about 30 days to reach the moon in this jump ship and based on his head math, the summer season would just be starting to ramp up when he got there. It didn’t give him much time. It didn’t give her much time either, if she really was still alive. His instincts told him she was. She had to be because he wasn’t going to accept anything less. He’d pulled her ass out the fire too many times now to lose her to the same kind of threat they’d started out running from. Another fucked up planet trying to eat them both alive.
He wondered if she had any idea what was coming. It wouldn’t matter so long as he got to her in time. Riddick caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the blank view screen as he prepped one of the cryosleep cuffs. In his haste to leave he’d forgotten that he was wearing his Lord Marshal outfit. He growled low in his throat at the way it made him look. Pompous and fat, like a prized hog going to market. At least he hadn’t bothered to wear the armor. Time to be rid of it.
Riddick retrieved his change of clothes and stripped down right in front of the view screen, knowing and not giving a shit that at any given moment someone could open comms and see him naked. He pulled on an old set of clothes that he’d grabbed with the rest of his just-in-case supplies, feeling instantly more comfortable in the black sleeveless top, functional brown pants, and his favorite pair of heavy boots. He slid his leather wristguards on and his collection of knives went into their various slots and crevices. Finally, he fitted his goggles back on top of his brow. He wouldn’t need to use them just yet, that would come later, but having them there was a welcome familiarity he’d forgotten about while living in the dim world of the Necromongers. Sure, having to use them emphasized one of his very few weaknesses, but they were undeniably a part of him. A part of him that he’d allowed himself to lose and losing himself wasn’t what he’d signed up for. It was time for a reminder of who he was and who he should be. There would be plenty of time for squeezing what he wanted out of his little personal army later.
Chapter 16: Minus 20 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
For the first time since her arrival on IG-4, Kyra greeted the dawn with sweat on her brow. She rolled over fitfully in her sleep and slowly opened her eyes against the low light around her. Some time in the night she must have kicked her blanket off because it was crumpled in a pile at her feet. She sat up, feeling more groggy than usual, and leaned back against the rough bark wall of her den. The heat was almost oppressive and the smoldering coals in her fire pit were only making it worse.
She wiped at her sweat and kicked the coals out in her aggravation. The movement disturbed Flicker who was curled in a sleek ball near the entrance. The Okifi lifted its head and stared at her for a moment, watching her actions and flaring its nostrils. It then curled back into its ball to sleep. Kyra felt as though she had been completely sapped of energy. How could the temperature have changed so rapidly overnight? She was already wearing the lightest outfit she had that was still intact and the long sleeves and pants clung to her sweating limbs uncomfortably. She could always cut the sleeves and legs short but if she was planning to stay here beyond the summer season she would need them when the weather began to turn again.
Maybe I should just go naked, she thought with a smirk. After all, there was no one here to see her except her animal friend and Flicker didn’t seem to care.
Over the last few days, something had been bothering Kyra that she couldn’t quite put a finger on. The climate around her was changing and that was definitely part of it but she felt like there was something she was missing. She had risked another two percent of battery loss last night to scour the data pad’s logs for any information on the coming change but most of the records all ended not long after the temperature had started to rise. She was already well into that now and the pad was down to five percent.
Before Kyra shut the data pad down she had spotted one final video log entry dated several days after the last log entries stopped. Attempting to open it brought her up short at another password barrier. She’d given up trying to get into it when the only password she knew had failed to grant her access. There might be some clue to the password elsewhere in the records but she wasn’t sure she’d be able to find it before the thing crapped out on her.
She glanced at the pad where it lay propped against the opposite wall and sat back, leaning heavily against the wood and feeling the heat swelling around her. Truthfully it wasn’t overly warm compared to a place like Crematoria but she had spent most of her time here in weather meant for multilayer clothing and swaddled in blankets all night long. Relatively speaking it was starting to feel like a fucking tropical paradise. Her ears picked up an odd sound as she rested and stared off into space. At first, Kyra wasn’t sure she’d even heard it. It sounded like the faint pattering of water droplets. She tilted her head and listened more intently.
There could be no mistaking it. The sound was faint and far between but it was definitely a wet dripping reminiscent of rain. She lifted her eyes to the ceiling of her den where the thick sideways branch grew overhead to give her a makeshift roof. As she watched, a fat rivulet of water dribbled over the side of the branch and dropped down onto the dirt that made up her floor where it rapidly soaked in and spread a dark, wet stain. Her brain tried to process what she was seeing while a second drop followed it and landed on her outstretched thigh with a splat.
“Rain?” she whispered aloud, rousing Flicker again.
Kyra stood and poked her head out of the den to get a good look around. All around there were huge droplets of water pattering down at a rate of about one every few seconds. It looked like rain but it didn’t feel like rain. She looked up at the canopy far above and thought she saw what seemed to be a faint mist making the light of the rising sun and the swiftly moving gas giant seem washed out and blurry.
Not rain, she decided as she studied it, condensation.
It had to be some artifact of the climate shift. She admitted that in her time here she had never once seen it truly rain but she had never questioned it. Nor had she questioned the apparent lack of running water, chocking it up to the strange sponge-like quality of the moon’s rock and the flatness of the ground. Water didn’t need to run here because it was everywhere and there were no rises or falls in terrain height. Wind didn’t blow here because the water didn’t move and the giant trees covered all available solid ground.
Except, apparently, it did rain here. It rained condensation below the upper forest cover. Kyra’s mind boggled at it, watching the thin mist stream through the greenery far above. Beside her, Flicker poked its head out and chirped, following her gaze. She stroked the oily fur that covered its head as she looked down at it.
“Big things are happening,” she remarked, “huh, Flick?”
The Okifi blew air out of its nostrils as if to agree with her and slithered out of the den. It moved easily down the trunk with its sticky finger pads and Kyra felt a pang of envy for not the first time. You can see in the dark and climb walls. Riddick would be jealous. She would be following it soon. She had a lot to do today including another trip up top to browse the dwindling supply of fruits and nuts. Between that and the strange changes in weather, she knew she would have to start her contingency planning soon. Even the fish in her pool were starting to dwindle and that was truly worrying.
Kyra slapped at the sting of a small biting insect that had landed on her forearm. Maybe it was time to start thinking about an escape plan.
Chapter 17: Minus 17 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Kyra was worried. Really worried. The temperature had risen another ten degrees in the last few days and she was having difficulty keeping up with her water supply. She had no idea how much hotter this place was going to get before the climate change levelled out but if was any more than this she might genuinely be in trouble. The heat made her entire body ache and her energy levels were so low that she found herself sleeping almost half the day away.
She told herself to get up and go down to the lower level for more water to boil but the heat down there was strangely worse than at the upper levels. It didn’t make sense. Wasn’t it supposed to be cooler in darker places like that? It had been cooler weeks ago. Thinking about what it was like now made her reluctant to go there. She glanced around for Flicker but she couldn’t see it. It was probably down there again doing whatever had drawn its attention away from her recently. She knew Flicker would return by nightfall, slick from the weird condensation rain that was steadily increasing in intensity.
Nearby, the dark glass of the data pad gleamed at her through her slightly blurred vision. Why the fuck not, she thought as she reached for it. She might as well try to get into that last entry before the moisture and heat destroyed the pad’s electronics and rendered it useless. She turned it on and dismissed all of its various messages and warnings. This time, instead of immediately tapping on one of the available categories, she stopped herself and just stared at the main screen. In her slightly hazy mind she latched on to the category titled Help. She had tried it before and knew it was basically just a search function that allowed her to look up help files by typing in keywords for what she wanted to do but it was otherwise useless.
On a whim, she decided to try something. She tapped the category and brought up the search field. On the digital keyboard she typed a few terms that brought up either too many results or none. After a moment, she decided to simply try typing password. Three results came up: a Password Hint link, a Password Recovery link, and a small text entry titled FEPW. She tapped the text file and it brought up a small uncategorized entry with only two lines. One was a sixteen digit string of numbers and the other was a line of text that said, “Just in case we need remembering.”
Kyra’s heart leapt at what she read. Quickly, she scrawled the number in the dirt with a finger and opened the video log that she hadn’t been able to access. When the password field popped up she typed the number in and, finger shaking, she hit the blue arrow button. The data pad processed it for a few seconds and then brought up a black window with the video log prepared to play. Kyra was almost afraid to watch it. Her head swam a bit when she tapped the play button and the image of a disheveled middle-aged woman with short brown hair and dirty clothes filled the window.
The woman settled herself in her chair and leaned on her elbows. She was sitting at a metal desk and the room around her was darkened by the shadows of night. She looked, for lack of a better description, tired and sad. Something in the way she stared into the camera told Kyra that she was haunted by a terrible memory. After a few seconds of thinking, the woman spoke.
“This,” she said with a heavy pause, “will be the final record of Settler Outpost Redwood. We’re packing up with the intention of pulling out when our ride gets here in a few days. I’m recording this log in case something goes wrong and the three of us that are left don’t get off this rock alive. This log will be a record of those of us we’ve lost and what happened to them.”
The woman spoke with the gravity and clarity of someone who was used to leading others. Kyra knew this had to be the same A. Bennett to whom the data pad belonged.
“We’ve been living here for almost three months now. At first, this place was perfect. More food, water, and resources than we could ever use. Setting up the outpost was difficult but the trees here are sturdy enough to handle support for large structures. I won’t go into details. Most of that’s in the supplemental logs on this terminal. Just know that we had it made … until about two weeks ago.”
Here, the woman’s face cracked and Kyra saw a flash of pain that was quickly tamped down.
“We barely noticed the climate shift at first. It was subtle but Mackie pointed it out once the temperatures started rising at a steady rate. We knew we were going to see things change once the summer season hit but we had no idea what to expect.” The woman blinked and scrubbed her hands over her face before refocusing.
“There were seven of us when we started out here. I’ve attached a list of names and serial numbers to this log so the families can be notified. The first one we lost was our surveyor, Jackson. We still don’t know exactly how he died but,” she swallowed and looked ill, “when the doc examined what was left of him she said it looked like some kind of bug had done it. Mackie thinks it was one of the giant centipedes he says he saw on level two a while back. None of us wanted to believe it but I guess he might be right.”
The woman shuffled through a few films on the table in front of her and put one on top of the stack.
“Eleven days ago our engineer, Lee, was working on one of the support struts for the central tower. He said something had knocked one of pins out and he’d have to go down to level three to find it. My hus- Larry went with him. There’s one of the big lamp worms down there. Lee got too close to it and it got him. I asked Larry about it but I didn’t get much more than that Lee was there one minute and gone the next. I think,” she paused here, her features nearly cracking again.
“I think something bit Larry while they were down there. He got sick a few days later. Doc did everything she could to help him but she said it was some kind of fever she’s never seen before.” The woman’s voice quavered and nearly gave out. “He passed four days ago. Tanner went down the next day pissed off and shot up the lamp worm. We’re not sure how but he also pissed off a pack of Okifi we’ve seen down there a few times and they ripped him apart.”
The woman didn’t sound quite as sad to see this Tanner person go. Maybe more regretful than anything else. She shuffled through her papers again.
“After that, we decided to call it quits here. We’re going to pack up our data and samples tonight along with everything else and send it back to Corporate. If they want to send a new team out that’s their decision but,” she leaned back and her brows drew down thoughtfully, “there’s something not right here. Mackie agrees with me. He’s dragging the emergency beacon out of the closet just in case we need it.” The woman shook her head slowly.
“This place seemed like paradise when we got here. Now … I’m not so sure. I don’t think we should -“
She was cut off by a splash of light that came pouring in from a door behind the camera that was thrown open. Heavy footfalls and a large shadow approached her as she looked up at the interruption, her features going hard. A man’s voice, tense with urgency, piped in from the direction of the shadow.
“Alice, you need to see this. Now.”
The woman rose immediately and moved in the direction of the unseen doorway. In a small grimy window that had been blocked by her position in the room, something big and round and glowing orange floated upwards. Kyra couldn’t see any details but the orange glow looked familiar. Through the doorway the recording picked up a low humming noise.
“What the fuck,” the woman breathed from beyond the camera, her words barely audible through the pad’s speaker. Then a blurry hand passed over the screen and the video cut out.
When the video had finished, Kyra’s mind raced furiously to process what she’d seen. Her thoughts were sluggish and it was difficult to stay focused. One thing had managed to catch her attention close to the end of the video. She replayed it and jumped forward to the point where she’d heard it.
“-dragging the emergency beacon out of the closet-“
Emergency beacon, Kyra smiled to herself. Somewhere in that ruined settlement was her ticket out of here. All she had to do now was find the thing and turn it on. Thinking back, she had an idea on where it might be. While Kyra lost herself in thought, the data pad’s battery percentage ticked from one to zero and the screen went black. She set it aside. She had no use for it now but it seemed wrong to simply discard it with a message like that saved somewhere in its memory.
She decided to take it back and put it in A. Bennett’s locker where she’d originally found it. Maybe whoever came to answer the beacon would find it and carry on the message. As Kyra rolled onto her side and yawned, she hoped it wouldn’t be mercs answering the call.
Chapter 18: Minus 16 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
The fever came on strong the next day. Kyra sweated and shivered all at once, her teeth chattering painfully. She reached for her half-empty pot of boiled water and lifted herself on an elbow to dip her trembling hand inside. The water was cool against her lips as she swallowed through the pounding in her head. All she could manage was three mouthfuls before she collapsed onto her side again. A few minutes later she threw it up and knew she was in trouble.
Chapter 19: Minus 15 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Dimly, Kyra was aware of something warm lying along her back. She continued to force herself to drink water but she also continued to throw half of it up. She could feel that she was starting to run low. In her weakened state she spilled more than she managed to get into her body. Most of the day she drifted in and out of sleep. The warmth at her back came and went periodically.
Her fevered brain was playing tricks on her between sleeping and waking. Sometimes she would see flashes of light in her peripheral that reminded her of that brutal sun back on Crematoria, chasing her across the charred landscape. Sometimes she would see glowing eyes that she thought she recognized. At one point she thought she heard the haunting cries of the bioraptors that had nearly killed her back on that forsaken desert planet. Always in her mind she was being hunted by something, and always she fled in childish terror.
When night fell and she drifted off to sleep again, she latched on to an image of Riddick in her mind. She focused every remaining ounce of strength she had on that image. He was standing in front of her in an empty blackness. There was no expression on his face and his eyes were covered by his goggles. She seemed to be drawing closer to him with each moment and yet she was never within reach. He raised his hands and slid his goggles up to look at her. An amused grin tugged at the corners of his mouth and his eyes burned like tiny suns.
You’re not afraid of the dark, are you? His low voice echoed in her mind without spilling from his lips. She felt herself shake her head.
Not if you’re in it, she thought in reply. This made him smile with a predatory flash of teeth.
Good girl, he purred.
Riddick gripped her jaw in his hand, his rough fingers hot against her fevered skin. He appeared to study her for a moment with his head tilted to one side.
There’s something I need you to do for me, Jack. The name incensed her a bit but it also had the effect of holding her attention with an iron vice. For her, Riddick was the only one who could and would ever get away with calling her by that name.
He leaned in close to her and brought his mouth to her ear. The heat of his body radiated through her as he loomed over her, his breath tickling her neck. She waited for him to elaborate, every fiber of her thrumming at his closeness. This time he spoke aloud.
Chapter 20: Minus 9 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
For the first time since she had fallen ill, Kyra could finally sit up. She was still very weak and had only a few mouthfuls of water left in her pot but somehow she’d managed to keep herself alive with Flicker’s help. The Okifi had sensed her malady and had known what to do while she was shivering and weak on the floor of her den. It had remained by her side, shared its body warmth, and guarded her while she slept. When she was coherent enough to eat, it had brought her fish. They were small and anemic but they were enough to keep her from starving and she ate the meat raw until she could get her fire lit while lying on the floor.
After the third day the rain had increased enough to form a small stream of water that ran down the side of her den. She couldn’t get the pot under it to collect any but she could drink from it if she turned her head just so. It tasted of wood dust but it was otherwise clean. Now, she sat braced against the wall next to that stream of droplets and waited until the swirling in her head subsided. There was a small fish cooking over the smoldering charcoal shards in her little fire pit. Flicker had gone out of the den after bringing her dinner. She was grateful that she had befriended the animal. Without its help, she wouldn’t have survived the last few days.
Soon, when Kyra was well enough to walk, she would make her last trip out to the ruined settlement. She hadn’t forgotten about what she’d learned from the video log. This illness had set her back more than she liked but she still felt that she had some time. Time until what exactly, she wasn’t sure, but she felt that time slipping away every moment she wasted on inaction. Something in the way Flicker acted resonated with that feeling too.
Then there was the dream. The one she’d had on the second day when the fever was at its worst. The dream about Riddick. Something about it felt different in her memory than any of the other fevered dreams and hallucinations she had experienced. It felt clearer, more tangible. He had felt more tangible. She brushed her fingertips over the area on her neck where his breath had touched her and thought she could almost feel it even now. What if … no, that was impossible. Riddick was dead. She had seen that with her own eyes. She had mourned his loss and continued on with the firm belief that she would never see him, feel him, again. It was the only way she could live with herself if it turned out he really was alive somewhere. That she had abandoned him back there on that runway.
And yet, the words he’d spoken to her in that dream still pulsed in her veins. Stay alive. Not like she wanted to die here but the words boiled in the back of her mind nonetheless. Every time she thought of them she felt the compulsion to obey. To move forward and keep moving forward until her legs could no longer carry her. And then, to crawl.
Yeah, Riddick, she thought, determination hardening her eyes, I’ll stay alive. And this time I won’t fall behind.
Chapter 21: Minus 7 days, Necromonger Jump Ship, Ignis System
An alarm was beeping in Riddick’s ear as the ship entered orbit around the gas giant. He came back to full wakefulness, surprised that he’d actually dozed off for once as he pulled the cryosleep cuff off of his arm. The thirty day journey had been filled with thoughts of Jack and of the version of her that he had come to know just before losing her again on Crematoria. Riddick wasn’t too big on overthinking or introspection but thirty days was a long time to spend alone, stuck in a chair with a needle in his arm and memories of the woman bouncing around in his head.
She called herself Kyra now and there was no mistaking that she was a woman. He still remembered the feel of her blade at his back, her voice in his ear. He still remembered his anger at her for disobeying his wishes, for turning to his darkness despite everything he’d done to keep her in the light. He still remembered the feel of her body, pressed up against the prison bars, her slim wrists in his hand and the heat of her crotch on his arm. The scent of her arousal in that moment had surprised him. It was a smell he never imagined he would associate with the child he knew as Jack. When the animal in him squirmed hungrily he had spat the name back at her then to remind himself that this one wasn’t for the taking. At least not yet.
She had kissed him then in a way only he could truly appreciate. With a blade. Absently he ran a finger over the hairline scar, long since healed, high on his left cheek. He wished it was still visible. There was no doubt in his mind after meeting her in that prison that she had birthed her own animal side. It saddened him to see that the innocence she had when he left her in New Mecca was long since gone. He knew the look. The one that said she’d been nothing more than prey for so many men. He had seen it on plenty of other women, though none so aggressive as she. When she revealed to him that she had signed with mercs, it explained everything about that look.
Yes, he’d been furious with her at the time but he’d been just as furious with himself as well. In some backwards way, it really had been his fault that she had disobeyed his wishes and run off to find him. He’d been too soft on her, let her get too close, let her believe that he cared. In response, he’d done the only thing he knew how to do. He’d removed himself from the picture. But he’d made a mistake in doing so. He had underestimated her willpower and her tenacity. He had underestimated how closely little Jack had bonded with him.
Children were one of his very few weaknesses. They always gravitated toward him, unaware of the horrors he was capable of. There was just something about their purity, their blind trust, that he envied just a little bit and being around them too long left him unguarded. Yes, Jack had snuck in through that back door but with her it had been something different, something more. It was almost as if she fit into him like a puzzle piece. He’d hated the thought of that. It meant that she had power over him, had a way to get to him, control him. Whether or not she had any desire to actually do so didn’t matter. No one could have power over him. No one. Not even a child. Not even her.
Still, seeing what Jack had evolved into had piqued his interest. This new animal, this Kyra, was an impressive change. She was much stronger and faster than she had been, though she clearly still had a long way to go, and she clearly knew more about the dark side of this fucked up ‘verse than he would ever have wanted her to learn. Watching her in that prison had revealed that any hope of ever bringing her back to the light was gone. Jack had left New Mecca to find him in any way she could and she had been through hell and come out the other end as Kyra, any shred of the innocent child she was now stripped away. And when everything was said and done she’d made it clear that she was his Kyra. Riddick admitted that he liked the sound of that.
Returning to the present, he brought up the forward view on the jumper’s view screen. The ship he’d taken was a small long-range craft used by Necromonger tracker teams to scout potential invasion points. It had no weapons and was barely big enough to house five bodies but it came loaded with all manner of scanning and observational equipment. Plus, it was maneuverable and quiet, needing to be able to get in and out of planetary systems unseen. Riddick would have considered keeping the ship if it weren’t for the constant reminder of the collar he had around his neck.
He ran a quick scan of the gas giant and located its fourth moon. It was a blue and green pock-marked ball not far from where he’d entered orbit. The average temperature across the surface had risen to about 37 degrees Celsius by now and there was a strange haze permeating the atmosphere. He ran a more thorough scan over the moon and found the crash site in a matter of minutes, though the ship wasn’t visible from above. The scan also made note of a ruined settlement near the crash site. Riddick switched the scanner to a mode that would trace for living humans. The scanner swept across the entire visible surface and a few faint orange echoes appeared, mostly in and around the settlement, but the result came back inconclusive.
The readout stated that the ground cover and atmospheric conditions were causing interference. Well, that was fine by him. It would have taken the fun out of it if the scan had been able to point her right out. He thought about his options as he brought the ship down to the surface to look for a place to land. The traces that the scan had picked up were enough to tell him that someone was alive down there and had been moving around in the ruins as recently as a few weeks ago. A fly-over of the derelict structures showed no movement and the one central landing pad was far too damaged to set even a small ship down on.
Riddick decided to find a place to anchor the ship in hover mode near the crash site. All of this scanner business wasn’t going anywhere. He needed to get down to the surface and get his hands into it. He needed to start from where she had started and track her with his own senses, feel the traces of her with his own body. He needed to hunt.
He brought the jumper down over the coordinates of the fallen frigate. Its belly brushed the leaves of the trees below. Locking the ship to its current coordinates would prevent it from drifting while he was gone. The gravity drive hummed quietly to keep it aloft as he made his way to the small hatch in the side, sliding his goggles down over his eyes. Once Riddick had a close-up view of the trees below he noticed that there was something unusual about them. The forest cover looked like a thick mat of all kinds of different vines and plants that stretched out below in a flat sea of solid green. He spotted a section of smooth bark peeking through the green within jumping distance and dropped down onto it, the limber branch creaking under his weight. He then swung himself down to a thicker branch below it and began to make his way down through the tangle.
As he descended, he passed into a thick mist that hung below the leaf cover. It permeated this entire layer of the forest, making the branches and vines slick with clinging moisture. Riddick nearly lost his footing a few times before adjusting to this new parameter and the further down he went, the thicker and sturdier the branches became. Eventually, after a small eternity, he came to a point where the mist thinned again and the branches gave way to open air. Riddick dropped down onto a broken branch a few feet below the mist. The light here had dimmed enough that he was comfortable removing his goggles to look around.
Far below, he saw the next layer of the forest, made up of huge branches, each of which were wide enough to set the ship down on. They spanned outward from the massive tree trunks to form a network of passages. Riddick figured they would be the fastest and easiest method of travel here. Off to his left, hanging like a grey ghost in the low light, he saw the crashed frigate. It was split nearly in two and the front end was wedged up against the cleft of a split in a nearby trunk. A net of vines and twisted branches held it suspended securely over open air. He made his way over to it and swung himself down into the hole that had been torn open in its side.
The moment he landed in the exposed corridor, the smell of old dried blood and decaying flesh hit him. The smacking of thick water droplets on the outer hull echoed in the silence of the ship as he moved through it. Occasionally, the frigate groaned and swung in its trappings with the shift of his weight but it never gave any indication that it was at risk of breaking free. It was utterly dark inside. Riddick followed the faint traces of an underlying scent that he recognized into the cockpit.
Here, he discovered the sticky, decaying corpse of the pilot crumpled at the downhill end of the tilted space. A quick examination revealed the deep slash across his shriveled throat. Work that had been done by a skilled blade. Riddick swept the room with his enhanced vision and spotted the opening in the ceiling above the pilot’s station. He jumped and caught the edge, pulling himself up enough to peer into the crawlspace above. The tiny space was filled with the scent of her and of her blood. It was stale but strong enough to dispel any doubts he may have had about whether it really was Kyra who had hijacked the ship. She was definitely here on this moon somewhere and now that he knew it, the hunt was on.
Riddick left the crashed ship with haste and climbed back up through the mist and slick forest cover to get his bearings. Overhead, the gas giant wheeled huge and bright in the sky, blocking the tiny sun. It was still too bright to go without his eye protection up here even with the temporary eclipse. Studying the landscape around him, Riddick spotted the ruins in the distance. It was the first place she would have gone, he thought. Maybe Kyra had set up camp there at one point but based on the scan from earlier, she wasn’t staying there now. It would still be a good stop to make next so he marked its direction in his mind and retreated below to use the lower layer of huge branches to make his way to it.
It took him a few hours of travel to reach it and it was turning to afternoon by the time he spotted the first markers on the lower level left by the settlers. He had no trouble seeing them in the low light and he followed them back to their convergence point at the base of the settlement. He climbed the rope leading up to the platforms. At the top, the destroyed state of the buildings immediately put him on edge. Moving through them like a silent specter, he could see clear indications of some terrible and violent event that had occurred here. There was shredded and twisted metal and machinery, occasional gunshot holes, charring from small explosives or fire, and the lingering scent of death was everywhere. All of it raised his hackles. He imagined that the people who had been here when this place was destroyed had been fighting for their lives.
One look at the central tower of the settlement told Riddick that it was useless but there were parts and sections that looked disturbed, as though someone had tried to get a closer look at the wreckage. He picked up a ruined solar panel that had been tossed aside near the base, noting the dusty hand and finger smudges on it before setting it down again. All around this structure, Kyra’s scent lingered. It was faint but it meant she’d been here, probably trying to salvage supplies or get the outpost running again. He wondered why should would bother since the machinery was obviously beyond repair.
Riddick walked his way around the entire area, noting occasional spots where Kyra had been or where she’d rummaged through something. She had pretty well cleaned the place out of anything useful before leaving and the state of it explained why she hadn’t stuck around. He would have to up his tracking game if he was going to get to her in time to avoid whatever had caused this destruction. There was no telling how far she had gone to make camp but he could tell she’d been here more than once so it had to be within reasonable travel distance. One or two days, perhaps.
Riddick returned to the rope and dropped down to the level below. He had his own supply of food and water strapped to his back, enough for about a week which was all he’d need. Once he found Kyra they were both going to get the fuck off this rock in a hurry. He might take a little time to observe her for his own amusement and curiosity, but any more than a few days of that would be cutting it too close.
Crouching down, he studied the immediate area and looked for any minute signs of disturbance. There were only a few directions Kyra could have taken from this point but it was difficult to smell her down here in the still air with the water dripping down from above. He spotted a broken shard of bark further along one of the marked branches and when he approached it he found a small strip of brown cloth under it. He brought it to his nose to verify that it was hers. Yes, she had come this way. He took off in that direction, following the path as it moved out into the forest.
Chapter 22: Minus 6 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Kyra threw her dwindling supplies into her sack. The sense of urgency she felt with each passing day kept ramping up, keeping her in a near constant state of tension. She was well enough now to walk without losing her breath so she had decided that it was time to make her last trip out to the ruins to find that blasted beacon. Flicker watched her with mild interest from where it was curled at the entrance to the den. She glanced at it and it chirped.
“Just have to go pick something up,” she told it reassuringly.
The Okifi had become sluggish lately, eating less and leaving the den only when she was gone from it for longer than a few hours. It seemed to dislike when she was out for too long. Kyra was worried that it had gotten the same illness that had taken her down but it wasn’t feverish or in any pain that she could tell, it was just … tired. She hoped it didn’t intend to follow her this time.
“I need you to stay here this time, okay Flick?”
The animal made a strange gurgling sound that she’d come to understand was an indication of displeasure or disagreement. She laughed under her breath.
“I’ll be back. I promise,” she said with as much reassurance as she could put into her words. This seemed to satisfy it because it curled itself back up into a ball and ignored her, drifting into a light sleep. After a moment, its bristled muzzle and padded toes twitched in response to a dream.
Kyra hoisted her pack and slipped out of her den. To her eyes, this level of the forest was much dimmer in daylight than ever before. Above her head, the mist was thick and roiling now and most of the water dripping down from above either came in occasional big fat droplets or streamed down the trunks of the trees. She no longer had to make trips down to the ground level to collect drinkable water. She had just placed her pot at the base of one of those streams until it filled. Food, on the other hand, was swiftly becoming a problem.
She had made one slow, agonizing trip yesterday to the canopy level to collect fruits and nuts but almost everything was gone now. Her sack was only half full by the time she gave up and headed home, and most of what she’d managed to collect was either half-ripe or half-rotten. She had a few strips of cooked fish left from the last few Flicker had brought her, wrapped in leaves to keep them from spoiling too quickly. Kyra thought she could stretch what she had out for another week before she was completely out of options. She hoped she wouldn’t need to worry about it once she found the beacon. She took a deep breath in the sweltering air and headed off in the direction of the outpost.
Chapter 23: Minus 5 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Riddick was stuck. Ahead of him the path split and there was no clear choice between them. Kyra’s scent had faded here and she had left no physical clue to indicate which path she’d used. There was also a small problem that he had yet to address. He was being followed by something. It was something big and nasty. He’d heard its odd clicking sounds not far behind earlier that day but he had yet to get eyes on whatever it was. He guessed now would be as good a time as any to deal with it.
He back tracked to the trunk he had just passed and listened, hearing a soft shuffling sound somewhere out of sight around the curve of the bark. The thing could climb walls so fighting it here would be a bad idea when he was at a disadvantage. Riddick gripped the thick ridges of the bark and made his way down to the ground level as quickly and as quietly as he could, knowing the thing would follow him. At one point during the climb he had looked back up the trunk and saw the slithering form of a long, flat insect with many legs curling around the tree and out of view.
Gotcha, he thought, now having an idea of what he was up against. Giant bugs. Why the fuck am I not surprised?
At the bottom, the heat and the stench of rotten vegetation was almost unbearable. He could see well enough in the near complete darkness but sound down here was strangely muffled. The shuffling movement came again from over the high curve of a twisting root to his left. He turned toward the sound and drew a long curved blade, his body tensing up in preparation.
Over the curve of the root, a flat head with many eyes and grasping mouthparts appeared. Its long antennae swept over the surface of the wood in front of it, searching and sensing. Hundreds of legs moved together to carry it over the root and down the other side with frightening fluidity as it hunted for him. The thing was easily twenty feet long. Riddick studied its movements while it still hadn’t located him, noting its apparent weak points and forming a plan of attack in his mind. The centipede obviously didn’t see well in the dark and was relying on its feelers to sniff him out.
Stepping silently to the side, Riddick rounded the creature’s head. He darted forward and slashed with his blade, one severed antenna falling to the ground beneath the creature’s head. It recoiled and swiveled to face him, the remaining appendage sweeping in his direction. He darted backwards out of reach as the bug grasped blindly at the space he had occupied seconds before. When the insect paused in confusion, he darted in again and severed the second antenna.
Angered and now completely blinded, the centipede thrashed and drew back, appearing for a moment like it would retreat. Then, it raised its head and began to emit the clicking sound Riddick had heard earlier. The sound bounced and carried through the air all around, grating on his ears. Either it was trying to echo locate him, or it was calling for backup, and both of those options were bad. It was time to end this little encounter before it escalated.
Riddick searched the ground for a rock or something heavy. He found mostly mushy leaf litter and dirt until he spotted a fist-sized chunk of splintered wood. Picking it up, he took aim and threw it so that it bounced off the root the centipede was gripping and hit one of the body plates a few segments behind its head. Immediately the insect coiled back on itself to investigate and when it did, Riddick darted in one final time, slamming his blade down on one side of the soft connecting tissue between the plates just behind its head. With a great wrench of his arms, he dragged the blade across and felt it tear with almost no effort through the soft inner organs before coming free on the other side.
Viscous, stinking fluid spilled free as the centipede’s body flailed, its now useless head hanging limp from a thin shred of intact connective tissue. Riddick knew he hadn’t destroyed its brain but it now had no way of survival and would die in a matter of days, if that. More importantly, it had no way to find and kill him. With eerie silence, the creature retreated backwards over the hump of the root and disappeared, dragging its head behind it and leaving a trail of acrid blood.
Satisfied with his victory, Riddick wiped most of the viscera from his knife with a few leaves and slid it bad into its hidden sheath. He brushed his hands off and climbed back up to where he’d lost Kyra’s trail. To his surprise her scent was thick and fresh in the air here, giving him a clearly defined direction. She had passed this way only minutes ago, though he couldn’t tell if she was coming or going. He considered whether or not to go back the way he’d come and try to catch her if she was headed to the outpost.
Ultimately, he decided instead to keep going. The outpost wasn’t where she spent her nights and there was no guarantee that was where she was going. No, his goal was the find wherever she was living with the knowledge that she would have to return to it eventually. Now that he had a much easier trail to follow, Riddick took off on his hunt once again.
Chapter 24: Minus 5 days, Ruined Settlement, IG-4
Kyra had pushed herself hard this time to reach the settlement in one day. She was completely wiped by the time she reached it, her entire body throbbing with exhaustion. She hadn’t intended to push so hard at first but being out in the forest with the heavy tension had driven her like a whipped beast to go faster and faster. It almost felt like there were monsters snapping at her heels with each step. Now, leaning on the base of the climbing rope, she gasped for breath and wiped sweat from her eyes.
On her way here she had heard the clicking sounds of one of the giant centipedes far below her at the bottom level. She hadn’t bothered stopping to look because she wouldn’t have been able to see anything down there. All of the lamp worms that had once hung low and illuminated areas of the bottom level were gone and had been for some time now. She had no idea where they’d gone and just assumed that they’d died off or gone into hiding somewhere. So, she ignored the sounds below and kept moving, using it as another source of motivation to get to the settlement and get what she needed.
When she’d rested enough to continue, she made her way up and headed for the collapsed storage shed. If the beacon really was somewhere in that rubble and still in one piece, she would kick herself later for having walked right past it on every trip. She circled the structure, looking for a way to get inside. The walls had fallen inward on two sides and the corrugated metal roof had bowed down to block the only visible remaining window. Maybe she could get in from above. Kyra grabbed at the standing corner and raised herself.
Viewed from above, she saw that there was a break in the warped roof where two metal sheets had come apart at their seams, leaving just enough space for a slender body to slip inside. She slid carefully down to it and squeezed herself through the hole to land unceremoniously on a wooden crate that shattered under her weight.
“Fuck,” she spat when a splinter of wood lodged itself in her calf. She yanked it out and had to take a moment to find something to wrap the puncture wound with. For lack of a better option, she used her knife to cut a strip of cloth from the bottom of her shirt and wound it tightly around her leg, tying it off with a wince. Well, that’s not going to be fun on the run back.
Inside the shed there was little light and no real standing room. The place was cramped and littered with broken and rusted equipment and tools she didn’t recognize. There were a few boxes of ammunition for a high caliber gun that wasn’t in here and a number of mining charges. On one of the intact walls she saw a metal shelf with a number of transparent plastic bins containing things like nails, screws, metal and wooden pins, and other construction parts. Nowhere in her immediate vicinity did she see anything that looked like an emergency beacon.
Disappointment flooded her as she looked around. None of this would help her get off this moon. None of this would help her survive whatever she felt was coming. She had come all of this way and wasted time for nothing. She threaded her hands into her hair and screamed her frustration into the dusty space around her, dropping to sit on the floor and stare up at the hole over her head. As she watched the big orange gas giant’s swirls move high overhead, she considered just giving up here.
Near her feet, she saw the remains of one of the settlers wedged under the collapsed wall in front of her. The body was nothing more than yellowed bones and tangled black strands of hair but it had once been a woman by the name of “Doc” according to a faded patch sewn into her pocketed vest. The name rang a bell. This was one of the settlers that Bennett had mentioned in the video. Kyra wracked her brain to recall what the woman had said. Something about someone retrieving the beacon? Had it been this Doc person? She didn’t think so but it still made her pulse quicken.
Doc obviously hadn’t made it out of the shed, pinned by the collapsed wall, and only the upper third of her body was exposed. Quickly, Kyra started to work. She looked around and spotted a long metal pipe leaning between the shelf and the other standing wall behind her. It was heavy but with some effort she managed to get one end of it wedged under the collapsed wall beside the corpse. In the cramped space, she strained against her improvised lever. The metal wall groaned and resisted at first but after a second attempt, the sheeting gave way and folded over on itself to create a small hollow.
Kyra tossed the pipe aside and bent to peer into the space. There, nestled in the curve of the dead woman’s body, was a cylindrical steel object capped at either end by a cluster of short antennae. She reached in and carefully pried it free, noticing that it was heavier than it looked. The case was dented and scratched in a few places but it didn’t appear to have taken any serious damage. There was faded engraving on the side that explained standard operating procedures such as how to turn the thing on and adjust frequency. On the opposite side were three big red letters that said ERB.
Kyra released a breath she hadn’t been aware that she was holding. This was it. This was what she needed, what would be her salvation. She placed it carefully in her sack, having to shift a few things around and stretch the canvas in some spots to get it to fit. She had to slip it through the tiny hole ahead of her to get it out and on her way back to the climbing rope she made a quick stop in the sleeping quarters. There, she pulled out the dead data pad and set it in the same spot where she’d found it in Alice Bennett’s locker. As she looked at the blank glass she brushed a hand over it wistfully.
“In case you need to be remembered,” she said to the ghost of the woman who had owned it, feeling strangely guilty about leaving it here like this.
She left the settlement then to return to her den and knew that she wouldn’t be coming back.
Chapter 25: Minus 4 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
He’d finally found her hideaway. Riddick approached the entrance of the hollow in stealth. Kyra’s scent was mixed here with that of something else, something inhuman. He pulled himself in and studied the interior. She had laid out a dirt floor and there was a small fire pit in the center filled with the cold remnants of wood charcoal. A grimy blanket was spread out near one wall with several more piled at its foot and an empty pot sat next to the pit. A metal cup and plate were resting against the opposite wall. Near the entrance there was a tight ball of dark brown fur that Riddick realized was a sleeping animal.
As he turned to face it the animal’s head jerked up, nostrils flaring. When its glowing eyes spotted him it unraveled its body with surprising speed and pressed itself back against the wall, back arched. Powerful jaws lined with sharp teeth opened to emit a grating growl that almost hurt Riddick’s ears. He drew one of his blades, preparing to strike the creature down, but hesitated. By the smell, this animal was probably living here with Kyra and it wasn’t actually trying to attack him, only scare him off. When he refused to budge, the animal darted for the door and slipped out into the forest.
Nice pet, he thought sarcastically when it retreated and he turned his attention back to the den. Now that he’d found her home territory all he had to do was wait for her to come to him. The question now was how long it would be until she returned and when the right time would be for Riddick to reveal himself. The entire forest was poised on the edge of a knife blade right now. He’d felt it on his journey here. But it hadn’t tipped yet. He still had a little time and he had truly been enjoying himself so far. He thought he could get away with letting this hunt continue for just a little longer.
Eager to set eyes on his prey, he slipped out of the den and away into the coming night.
Chapter 26: Minus 3 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Night had fallen shortly before Kyra made it back to her den. She had been unable to push herself as hard on the way back while carrying the weight of her prize on an injured leg. So the journey had taken longer than expected. By the time she reached her home she had been following the path by feel and memory alone. Above, there was a faded blotch of orange glow as the gas giant wheeled across the sky, its reflected light far too weak to penetrate the mist sufficiently and light her way. She pulled herself heavy limbed into the safety of her hole and set about pulling the beacon free of her sack. She placed a few chunks of bark into her pit and lit it with the lighter from her sack, stoking it until she had enough light to read the engraving on the side of the beacon.
A chirp at the entrance signaled the arrival of Flicker. It had an agitated look to it as it entered cautiously, casting about with its eyes and sniffing the air. Kyra had no clue what it was so upset about and she was too relieved to be home with her prize to worry about it at the moment. She set the beacon down and motioned for the animal to come near. It slithered over to her and sniffed at the steel object warily.
“This is it, Flick,” she told it, “this is my way out.”
Flicker snorted at it and left her to curl up in its usual spot near the door. Kyra returned to reading the instructions. She was surprised to find that most of them had already been done and that it only needed the boot code entered on a small number pad on the top end. The code was thankfully engraved along with the instructions and when she entered it she heard a few short beeps and something inside the case whir to life. On the top end, a red light began to flash, slowly at first but with increasing rapidity. The beacon was alive.
Now Kyra just needed a safe place to put it. She took one of her braided plant fiber ropes and slung it over the horizontal branch that acted as her roof. She tied it around the beacon and suspended it just above her head where it slowly rotated and swayed for a few minutes. The rope she’d made was sturdy enough to carry her weight so she figured it wasn’t in danger of snapping in this case. She went to sleep that night to the comforting red flash of the light.
Chapter 27: Minus 2.5 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Riddick crouched silently on the branch over Kyra’s head, eyes gleaming with each red flash from below. The woman was curled on her blanket near the smoldering remains of the fire, her mane of wild hair splayed out behind her head. The shirt she was wearing had been cut short at the waist to expose a small expanse of skin. As he watched her sleep he was reminded of how she looked in the prison on Crematoria. It was a lot like this. Exposed skin in places, unkempt hair, dirty clothes, and an undeniable animalistic quality to the way she carried herself. Even as she slept she had the look of a wild animal, ready to spring awake at any disturbance. Too bad he had no intention of waking her tonight.
He reached down and slowly began to lift the hanging metal object that was his current target. He knew what it was and had watched her play with it earlier that evening. She’d looked enormously pleased with herself when she’d turned it on and strung it up. Like she’d strung up a hunting trophy. Cute. If he had any sort of sympathy for her situation right now he might have left the beacon alone. Unfortunately, he didn’t need mercs or whoever else crashing his party, so the beacon had to go.
When he had the object in his hand he sliced the rope with a knife and hauled it away from the den. Outside, he gave it a quick once-over, finding the best spot. He could have just turned it off and hidden it but there was a chance she might be able to find it again and he didn’t want that worry on his mind. Finding what he was looking for, Riddick slammed his knife down at a metal seam and twisted. There was a flash of electricity from within the case and the red flashing abruptly stopped along with the sound of whirring machinery.
He kicked the slaughtered remains over the side of the branch he was on and watched it tumble away into the night, satisfied that it wouldn’t create any problems for him now.
Chapter 28: Minus 2 days, Deep Forest, IG-4
Riddick was toying with one of his knives near the den, waiting for Kyra to wake up. When she did, it was with all the fury and frustration of a woman betrayed. He had to lean sideways a bit to see the entrance from where he lounged, hidden from her view on a perch higher up the trunk. She was throwing things and cursing. He sat back and enjoyed the show.
Inside her den, Kyra was shaking in her anger. She woke a few minutes ago thinking she would see her beacon hanging high above her, blinking away. Instead, she’d found only a sliced rope and the beacon gone without a trace. How the fuck had this even happened? Who or what could possibly have done it? She glared at Flicker as it watched her from its usual spot. A cold chill crept down her spine and she pointed up at the rope as she came over to the animal.
“Did you do this? Did you?!” she snarled at it.
Flicker shuddered under her anger and backed away from her, its wide gleaming eyes flitting between hers and where she was pointing. A low gurgle began in its throat. Kyra didn’t know how to interpret that sound and it sure as hell didn’t calm her fury. It had to have been Flicker. There was no other explanation. Maybe it hadn’t liked the smell of the beacon or feared it for some reason. Maybe it was just possessive in some stupid way. She didn’t know. She didn’t care.
“Why, Flick? Why the fuck would you do this? I’m screwed now, you know that?” The animal cowered and backed towards the entrance to the den. “Fuck! Why did I ever trust you?!”
She threw her hands up, tears filling her eyes, and the Okifi fled. Guilt twisted in her gut but she was too upset to go in search of the animal right now. She sat down heavily on the dirt floor and drew her knees up, scrubbing her face with her hands as tears spilled from her eyes. She wasn’t sobbing. She was just so wound up at this new development that her agitation was overflowing in the only way it could. She needed to clear her head, get some air, and think about what to do next.
She left her den and walked out a ways along one of the big branches, not really having a destination in mind. When she was out of sight of her haven, she stopped and stared out at the empty space between her branch and the next. In her head she went over her possibilities. The beacon was missing, yes, but it wasn’t necessarily gone and might still be on even now if it hadn’t been damaged. However, she couldn’t afford to assume it was running. Not this late in the game. So what next?
Water wasn’t an issue but she had almost no food left. There was nothing left to gather and the fish had fucked off somewhere for who the hell knew how long. If the turtles came by again she could try to hunt one of them but she hadn’t seen them return after the first time they came through. If they migrated, she wouldn’t see them again any time soon. Can’t count on that. The centipedes, then? She had no idea how to kill one safely or if they were even edible.
She sighed, hitting a mental wall. She decided that tomorrow she may as well pull her useless fish trap out and stow it somewhere. If she was going to try to stay here through whatever was coming she would need it again in the future. The heat seemed to swell around her and she felt she couldn’t ignore her thirst anymore. She would have to remember to collect some of the rain water later. Thinking of the rain made her hesitate. She hadn’t picked up on it until now but there was only silence around her. The droplets had stopped and she couldn’t hear the sound of water running down the trunk of her tree.
Not good, she thought. If I lose my water supply, I really will be screwed.
It looked like she’d have to make her trip down the pool first thing tomorrow. She turned to go back to the trunk when a flash of eyes gleaming in the dark in that direction caught her attention. They were gone before she could get a good look. She wondered if Flicker was out there somewhere, watching her from a distance. She told herself that when it returned tonight she would apologize and hope the animal understood. When it didn’t return that night, she went to sleep feeling more lonely than she’d felt in a long time.
Chapter 29: Minus 1 day, Deep Forest, IG-4
When Kyra’s feet touched the ground it was again by feel and memory. The lack of light down here was so profound that she could no longer make out dim shapes even when her eyes had enough time to adjust. All she could see was the faint blinking of her tiny flash beacon, not much stronger than a candle, over by the pool. She made her way over to it, stepping in places she remembered were safe. About half way to it she slammed her foot painfully into something hard and metallic.
She stumbled back and knelt down, reaching out with shaking hands to brush against a round metal object covered with engraved writing. Her heart leapt. She inched over to it and ran her hands everywhere she could touch. When she came to the jagged edges of its wound and felt the opening that had been torn into it, she knew immediately what had happened even though her brain told her it was impossible.
This hadn’t been done by an animal. This had been done by something hard and sharp like a tool or a blade. As far as she knew there were no other humans on this moon but there was no mistaking what she felt. Someone was here with her and that someone had snuck into her den and taken the beacon and destroyed it. Her first thought, as always, went to Riddick. She brushed it aside. Remember, he’s dead.
Mercs, then? But why would they just sneak in and take the beacon like that? She or Flicker would have heard them. After all, she’d never met a stealthy merc. She shook her head. She didn’t have time to think this out. If there were humans here, great. Maybe she could find them after she survived the coming storm. For now, she had more important business. She made a mental note of the beacon’s remains and told herself to come back for it some other time as she moved on.
She pulled her empty fish trap up and untied a few knots in certain places. The entire thing flattened out so that she was able to fit it into her sack, switching the flash beacon off and tossing that in along with it. She scooped water with her pot and slung it to her belt with a sling she’d build to help her carry water up from the ground level. She usually lost a little on the way back up but she’d gotten better at it with enough practice. As she came to the base of the tree her feet touched an odd dip in the ground a bit to the side.
As she felt around she determined that it was a small burrow of some kind dug into the base of the tree and into a hollow in the rock below. She set her pot down and entered the burrow slowly, pulling out the tiny flash beacon to use as an improvised flashlight. Between flashes of light she saw that the space within was big enough for a human to comfortably crawl into with a few inches of wiggle room and the temperature inside was at least ten degrees cooler. Inside the burrow, curled into a tight ball, was Flicker.
“Flick,” she whispered as she inched closer to the animal. It was still and unresponsive even when she put a hand on its flank. Beneath her hand she could feel that it was breathing so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible, its body cool to the touch. Hibernating, she realized. That explained why it hadn’t returned the previous night and why it had been getting so sluggish lately.
You stayed with me as long as you could, didn’t you?
She owed the animal her life and now she didn’t think she’d ever get to apologize for her behavior or thank it. She sighed and backed out of the burrow, bidding the Okifi a farewell. It had found its safe haven and it was high time Kyra did the same. She headed back up to her den, resolving to pack up whatever she could and do what all humans tended to do when they wanted to flee to safety: get to higher ground.
Chapter 30: Day 0, Deep Forest, IG-4
Kyra didn’t wait for morning. She had tried to sleep but the tension in her mind and body, coupled with the events of the last few days, had her wired and taught. If she waited any longer she thought she might snap. She threw everything she had left of her supplies into her sack and without a look back, she took off into the night to begin her trip to the upper level. Up there, she would get her bearings and maybe, by the light of the gas giant wheeling overhead, something would come to her.
Riddick had actually dozed off for a short while after Kyra had retired for the evening. She hadn’t gone to sleep yet. He could see she was packing up and knew that it was almost time to end the chase. When he roused suddenly a short time later, her den was dark and empty. He dropped into it and looked around, surprised that he’d missed the moment of her departure. The fact that she’d left in the middle of the night instead of waiting for daybreak surprised him as well.
He tracked her out and into the forest. She was moving swiftly and upwards toward the canopy. He followed the trail, muscles pumping to make up for lost ground. She was running blind so it wouldn’t be long before he caught up and went in for the kill.
Kyra pulled herself up onto the broken stump of a branch. Not far above she could see the thick mist as it rolled around under the canopy. It was thicker in some places than others and the way it seemed to swallow the branches that rose into it disturbed her. Getting through it wouldn’t be easy, especially with how wet everything was going to be in there.
A shiver rolled down her spine again as her instincts screamed at her. Tensing up, she put a hand on the hilt of the hunting knife in the waistband of her pants. She’d been getting these shivers since she left her den. She knew what it meant, she’d felt it before. She was being hunted. Was it whoever destroyed the beacon? If it was, she might seriously be in trouble facing an opponent that skilled in the art of stealth.
What if it was something else, some creature she had yet to encounter? A long look behind her revealed nothing to her unenhanced eyes. She gritted her teeth and forced herself onward, fighting off the urge to panic. If she could hide, she could stay safe. She was good at hiding. Maybe, once hidden, she could figure out what was hunting her and turn the game around as well. The mists were starting to look pretty good after all. She continued her climb.
Riddick caught up to Kyra as she passed up into the mists. He’d hung back a bit when he first caught sight of her because she was starting to become aware of his presence. Well, more that she was becoming aware of a presence. If she knew it was him, she wasn’t tipping her hand. Still, her increased awareness was a good sign. Her instincts were on point. He climbed up into the mists after her.
The visibility inside the mist was awful. Kyra’s progress was slowed so much that she could practically feel whatever was following her breathing down her neck. Her hand kept straying to hilt of her knife. Shapes swirling up out of the blank fog caused her to jump randomly. The branches and vines she climbed through and over and around were slick with condensation, making it difficult to maintain her footing if she lost her concentration.
Every few minutes she imagined she could hear someone calling her name. A hoarse whisper here, a low growl there. Her mind painted the hallucinations in Riddick’s voice, making it much worse. She imagined him calling to her from the grave. I’m really losing it, now. She pushed on, coming to a branch that was a bit wider around than the others, with smooth light bark. It stretched out ahead of her with no visible nearby hand-holds and disappeared into a particularly thick grey cloud.
Looking back over her shoulder, she imagined that she could see a dark shape looming some distance behind. She closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. When she looked again, it was gone. Keep moving, she told herself. Hallucination or not, she didn’t want to find out what that was. She decided to take the risk and stepped out onto the branch, taking careful steps as she moved into the wall of fog in front of her. The branch began to taper slowly as she moved along it.
Behind her, far enough back that she couldn’t see it, something heavy landed on the same branch and shook her. Startled, her foot slipped and she fell sideways, hitting the branch with her ribs and sliding down. She grabbed for it frantically and got her hands around the wood but it was slick and she felt her hands starting to slip. She adjusted her grip a bit as the branch continued to shake with each slow step of whatever was approaching.
Her mind reeled, struggling to think of what to do. If she used both of her hands she could maintain her grip but she would sacrifice the use of her knife to defend herself. If she went for the blade with one hand, she wasn’t sure she could keep her grip with the other. Back along the branch, the dark shape she’d seen a few moments before was beginning to materialize, drawing nearer. As it drew closer, Kyra knew she had no other choice than the try for the knife.
She strengthened her grip on the branch as best she could and dropped a hand to her waistband. He fingers closed over the hilt of the knife just as her other hand slipped free of the branch and she began to drop. In that moment, as she felt herself falling, a hand snapped down and closed around her forearm with an iron grip. It was a big, rough hand. A hand she knew. She reeled with the understanding of what had just happened as Riddick pulled her up and set her unsteadily back on the branch.
As she stood there staring at him in stunned silence, he grabbed her arm again and guided her hand out to find another branch running parallel to the one they were standing on at shoulder height and arm’s length. She had never known it was there, hidden just beyond her visibility range. He was holding onto the same branch and watching her, his face blank, eyes flickering as he looked her over. After a moment, a crooked grin twisted his mouth.
Then she punched him.
Riddick took the hit, his head only slightly turned with the force of it. He’d known it was coming and he let her have this one because she probably deserved it after his little cat-and-mouse game had almost gotten her killed. The game had been worth the price of one free hit but he wasn’t going to let it happen again. Fortunately, she didn’t seem inclined to take a second shot. She only seemed like she was ready to explode as the realization that he was still alive and apparently well hit home.
“You were dead, Riddick,” she said with a warning tone. “I saw you. Dead.”
She said it with that little tilt of her head she did when she was gearing up to say or do something he wasn’t going to like. There were so many things he could say right now, so many different ways this could go, but this wasn’t the place to have this conversation. And they didn’t have the time to waste on it either. They needed to get moving.
“Later, Kyra,” he said, the finality in his tone brooking no argument.
She had a look on her face that said you bet your ass this is coming back later but she obeyed him.
“We need to get moving. I got a ship we can use but it’s parked a couple days that way.” He nodded his head off in a direction only slightly off course from where she’d already been going. Kyra looked in that direction and slid her knife back into her pants. Riddick was pleased to see she hadn’t dropped it during her near-death experience. Without looking at him, she started off in that direction.
“So that’s it? You just show up again, out of nowhere. Pick me up and save the day again like it’s an inconvenience for you?”
The bitterness in her words pissed him off but he chose to ignore it. For now.
“Then what, Riddick? You’ll disappear again? For the third time?”
His annoyance was building with each word. She’d done this the last time they’d come together too. Reamed him over his actions and how they’d resulted in pretty much the opposite of what he’d intended. And she’d been right, then. They came to a small section of tree trunk and Kyra stopped, leaning against it to pant. Her adrenaline was wearing off now and her tumble had taken a toll on her, much as she hated to admit it in front of him. She glared at him as he came near.
“That’s all you know how to do, isn’t it? Save the fucking day and leave.” Her words were soft, broken. They were Jack’s words.
Riddick had been about to push past her but he stopped dead in his tracks when she spoke. His anger boiled at her accusation. He turned his head slowly, deliberately to lock his eyes onto hers. He could throw her up against the tree as he’d done in the prison, if he thought it would make her understand. She was just as angry as he was and he could see that. Instead of violence, he chose a different tactic. He closed in on her, bringing his face to within inches of hers and stared her down in silence until he saw her anger falter. Then, almost gently, he told her what she didn’t want to hear. What she needed to hear.
“I didn’t leave you back at that hangar, Kyra. You left me.”
She flinched and pain contorted her features. She looked away and closed her eyes, the breath and fight bleeding out of her. He turned from her and took off again into the mist around them. After a moment he felt her fall into step and keep pace behind him. They continued this way for about an hour before Riddick stopped.
“This is stupid,” he said and looked down at something below his feet.
Kyra watched him drop down and disappear from view. A second later she heard him call her name from somewhere underneath her. She hesitated for a moment and then risked the leap, dropping down onto a wide branch about six feet below the mists. Riddick was standing beside her, studying the area. The branch they were on converged with its trunk a small distance ahead, which continued down to the second level below. Kyra knew what he was getting at now. Traveling up above was slow and dangerous. They would make much better time if they stayed on the second level and with Riddick leading, Kyra could stop worrying about getting lost in the blackness.
They picked their way down the trunk and Riddick glanced up at the glow of the setting gas giant to get his bearings again. It was indistinct but obvious in its direction. With a glance at Kyra to make sure she was on the same page, he moved ahead.
Chapter 31: Day 1, Deep Forest, IG-4
They travelled in silence through the night and most of the day, stopping only to eat or drink or to relieve themselves. Riddick shared his food with Kyra when she ran out of her own but they otherwise had no interaction. Kyra didn’t want to admit that she was avoiding talking to him. I’m not giving him the silent treatment. I just don’t have anything to say. She had to repeat it to herself every few hours just to make sure she believed it. At least with the lack of distractions they were making great progress and Riddick seemed satisfied. Until they hit a dead end, literally.
That dead end came in the form of a giant branch that had somehow broken off, leaving a yawning impassable space in the direction they wanted to go. The break looked fresh and Kyra thought she could see the massive log on the ground below if she stared hard enough. At the broken end, there were deep crevices where the thick bark had ripped away to expose the smooth inner wood beneath. Riddick experimentally leapt down into one and observed that it was waist deep. The wood at the bottom was smooth and light and strangely cool. Aside from this branch, there were no other reachable paths heading in this same direction.
Kyra came over to Riddick and crouched at the edge of the crevice he was standing in. He was studying the hole thoughtfully. She opened her mouth to say something but the words never came. All around them, a low hum began. It resonated up through the wood from below. One moment Kyra was starting to stand so she could look over the broken end of the branch and the next, Riddick had lifted her bodily and plopped her down into the crevice. He threw himself over her and turned his head to listen as the humming increased in intensity. Kyra squirmed beneath his significant mass and tried to speak but he shushed her, still listening.
After a few more seconds of waiting, she saw them rise. Everywhere she could see the air was filled with flying insects. Their bulbous bodies were fat and cumbersome as they winged their way toward the canopy. There must have been hundreds of them just in the immediate area and she could see no end to them as they continued to stream upward. Their abdomens resembled the lamp worms that had all disappeared not long ago and when the highest of the insects came close to the mist, its body flickered and lit with a familiar orange glow.
Riddick had turned now and was watching them as well. One insect crawled up over the broken end of the branch and along the edge of their hiding place. It was as long as Riddick was tall and had a wicked pair of scimitar pincers attached to its head. It didn’t seem to pay them any mind as it paused right above them and unfolded its wings. The wind of its take-off rushed over them as it rose slowly into the air to follow its brethren.
The entire event lasted no more than ten minutes. When it was over, Riddick got up and looked around cautiously. The forest had returned to silence and darkness now, as though the bloom of insects had never come and gone. He looked at Kyra as she stared up into the trees above. She was staring open mouthed and amazed, like a child seeing a rainbow for the first time. It made him think of her as he knew her back when they’d first met. As Jack, the innocent twelve-year-old girl in disguise who had looked at him with that same expression.
“We should get some rest,” he said, dispelling the image from his mind.
Kyra came out of her reverie and nodded, following him back into the crevice. She sat down on the smooth floor and leaned back against the bark, drawing her knees to her chest and folding her arms over them. Riddick sat beside her and leaned against the opposite wall. For some unknown reason he’d put his goggles on again so she couldn’t see his eyes. Maybe it was his way of blocking out the world around him when he wanted to rest.
Kyra tried to force herself to feel tired. She turned her head away from Riddick and closed her eyes but when she did, she saw his face in her mind. When he’d pulled her up from her fall, when he’d reminded her of her failure on Crematoria, when he’d come to her in the prison. Her heart clenched painfully at the truth she hadn’t wanted to accept. She had left him. And in her case, it wasn’t because she’d wanted to do right by him through some convoluted sense of logic. It was because she’d lost faith in him. Did he hate her for it? Would she ever be able to earn his trust again?
Now he was here, rescuing her again, even though she’d abandoned him for dead. He had come back for her, risked his own safety for her, for the third time. But why? If she were any other person, even Imam, he would have written her off as a lost cause a long time ago. What made her so different? She wanted to know but she didn’t think he would tell her. Maybe he didn’t know either. Come to think of it, he still hadn’t answered the unspoken question of what he intended to do with her when they left this rock.
“I thought I told you to rest,” Riddick growled.
She turned to look at him. His goggled head was turned to face her now, making it clear where he was looking. She chewed on her thoughts while she stared back at him, unaware that he was reading her like an open book. After a moment, she spoke up.
“Why are you here?”
The question wasn’t what she really wanted to ask but it was still something she wanted to know.
“To pull your ass out of the fire again,” he said mercilessly.
Kyra frowned at him. He was working her up easily.
“Why, Riddick? Why do you keep coming back? All I ever do is slow you down.”
“Don’t like it? I can still leave you here.”
Kyra kicked out at the opposite wall with one leg and made a frustrated noise in the back of her throat.
“If it’s what you’re going to do anyways, might as well get it over with!”
Riddick sighed and pulled his goggles off, setting them aside. He fixed his glowing eyes on her and shook his head.
“You keep saying I’m gonna leave you here, or leave you somewhere else, like you know what I’m gonna do. You don’t know me, Kyra. Maybe if you stopped assuming you know what the fuck I’m gonna do, you’d start to know me.”
There was no anger in his voice, no disappointment. It was a simple statement of fact. Kyra lowered her head and looked away like an admonished child and Riddick got to his feet, fitting his goggles back onto his head.
“So what are you going to do” she asked, her voice almost a whisper.
“First, I’m gonna get us the fuck off this rock. After that,” he shrugged, “I guess that depends.” On you.
Then, Riddick leapt out of the little crevice and disappeared into the night. She heard the unspoken words and sank into herself. She sprawled out on the wood beneath her and closed her eyes and after a long time, when her thoughts had finally quieted, she fell asleep.
Chapter 32: Day 2, Deep Forest, IG-4
Daylight gradually roused Kyra from her slumber. There was something big and warm against her back and for a brief moment, she thought it was Flicker. Then she remembered where she was and who she was with. Slowly, trying not to disturb him, she peeked over her shoulder at Riddick. He was lying beside her with his back to hers, breathing evenly and deeply. She wondered if he was really asleep this time.
As much as Kyra would have enjoyed staying like this, there was a cramp in her thigh getting worse by the minute and her arm had gone numb. She did her best to rise quietly and pulled herself up out of the crevice to stretch and work the blood back into her abused limb. She wandered off a ways to relieve herself out of view and came back to find him, weirdly, in the same spot she’d left him.
I guess he really does sleep sometimes, she thought as she rummaged around in her sack for one of the rations he’d given her yesterday. She wolfed it down and drank some of her water, wondering if she should wake him so they could get moving. Wouldn’t that be funny? Kyra prodding him into motion for once. Instead of waking him, she decided to grant herself a few private minutes to watch him sleep.
She crouched at the edge of the crevice and looked him over, admiring the way he lay there like a sleeping tiger. Riddick was a big man and anyone who had ever met him might wonder how he could be so silent and so fast in everything he did. Kyra truly admired him for his physical prowess but that wasn’t what drew her to him. Back on the hellish planet where she’d met him it had been his sheer willpower, calculating intelligence, and complete lack of fear that had caught her so thoroughly. His eyes had been a plus, of course, and the fact that he’d saved her life had helped too.
Back then, to her youthful eyes, he had seemed like some kind of omnipotent dark god. She had worshipped him, swearing fealty in her mind for all eternity. If only he would let her stay by his side, they could conquer the ‘verse together. It wasn’t until years later, after her innocence had long been lost, that she began to think of him in a different way. There had been many nights in prison when her thoughts of him had nearly driven her over the edge, imagining what it might feel like to have his rough hands or his mouth on her skin.
When she’d grown strong enough to stop other men from doing what they wanted with her, she had decided to allow only one person to ever touch her like that again. And if it turned out he didn’t want to, she would just be happy knowing she was near him. When she had argued with him back in Crematoria’s prison, her inner animal had been calling to him, reaching for him. When he’d had her up against the bars she had nearly lost herself to that primal need. In the end, she’d lost her nerve and resorted to her last-ditch tactic of self-defense to escape before her body gave her away. She couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if she’d stayed.
Kyra sighed softly and stood up. Now that he was here before her, alive, she could admit to herself that she was attracted to Riddick. The child in her loved him like a big brother but the woman in her, the animal in her, hungered for him. Would he ever see her as more than just a scared kid? Maybe, after they got through this, she could show him just how much she’d grown. Show him that she wouldn’t always need to be rescued. Maybe then, he would see her as an adult worthy of his attention.
Kyra turned away from the sleeping predator and walked to the broken edge of the massive branch. Far below, she thought she could see something moving in the darkness. The mist above had thinned a bit overnight and allowed a little more light to seep through. As she concentrated on the shadows down there, she was startled by a voice just behind her.
Kyra spun around with a gasp and threw a punch purely on instinct. He caught her wrist easily and spun her around with her own momentum to lock her arm behind her back. Riddick pulled her flush against him, locking her arm between their bodies. Kyra winced at the pain and was forced to stand on the tips of her toes to relieve it, her head arched back into his shoulder.
“Not very nice,” he drawled in her ear. “Doesn’t make me wanna stick around when you keep throwing punches.”
“You’re hurting me, Riddick,” Kyra hissed through clenched teeth.
“You gonna hit me again?”
“I promise,” she said in exasperation, “now let me go!”
Riddick released her and she turned to face him, looking very much like she was going to hit him again as she rolled her shoulder and rubbed her elbow. He was wearing one of his little smirks and his goggles were on again.
“Gonna have to work on your escape tactics,” he said lightly, as if this had been part of some friendly practice.
Kyra was about to spit a smartass retort at him when she saw his expression change and his entire body tense. With one fluid motion he reached out and pulled her back away from the edge of the branch. He was staring at the spot where she had been standing and when she followed his gaze she saw what looked like a rust-red vine curling up like a snake over the splintered wood. It was covered almost entirely by some type of wiry hairs that looked like curved needles. As they watched, the vine continued to grow at an impossibly fast rate towards them, pushing up through the splintered end of the branch, the wood cracking and splitting around it.
“Looks like we’re out of time,” Riddick said as he backed away from it.
He flipped his goggles up and studied the forest all around them. Even without Riddick’s night vision, Kyra could see a network of rust-red covering everything just below the level they were on and rising steadily. She cursed herself. While she’d sat lost in her own thoughts, this thing had been growing up toward them. Riddick was looking up now.
“Now we climb,” he said and he turned and ran full speed back along the broken branch as more red vines began to curl up around the sides.
Kyra nabbed her sack and followed him and when they reached the trunk, they both hauled themselves upward as fast as they could. On the way, Riddick kept glancing back to make sure she was still on his heels.
“We’re close to my ship,” he said over his shoulder as he climbed. “We can make it if you follow my lead.”
Kyra could have laughed at that.
“When have I ever not followed your lead?”
“Just once,” he said and she could hear his smirk.
As the red blanket rose slowly behind them, they entered the mist layer and broke through it into the morning sunlight. The sudden brightness hurt Kyra’s eyes and she shielded them from the sun as she looked around, trying to spot a landmark. Behind her and off to one side a ways was the broken tower and ruined shells of the settlement. Curiously, she looked towards the east horizon to see the big break in the tree cover that marked the huge lake she had never taken the time to visit. With a slight start, she realized they were heading to the crash site.
Riddick had taken off again and she hurried to catch up, careful to follow where he stepped as he plowed ahead. High overhead she saw the flying insects from the previous evening diving and weaving in a massive cloud. Every once in a while one of them would drop from the sky, broken and twitching, to disappear through the forest cover. They’re fighting up there, she thought, trying to make sense of things while she ran. But how did the vines come into play? What were they?
Her question was answered when an insect fell off to her right close enough for her to see it get captured in the curl of one of the red vines. With frightening speed, the vine constricted around the dying bug, its curved hairs digging into the body. In seconds, the insect was drained of its fluids and reduced to a shriveled husk. Oh shit. If one of those vines got hold of her, she’d be dead in less than a minute.
That had to be what happened to the settler outpost. Kyra imagined those last three people and their surprise when their home was suddenly overrun by vicious, blood sucking vines. Her stomach churned. She knew that kind of fear, what it felt like. Except that they hadn’t had Riddick there to get them out and she had. She did even now.
Ahead, Kyra could see a ship now, hovering in place over the forest. At first the sound she was hearing from the engine didn’t register but when she got closer, she recognized it and stopped dead in her tracks. It was the familiar sound of a gravity drive. Her blood went cold. A few steps ahead, Riddick stopped and turned to her when he noticed she wasn’t following. He understood her hesitation instantly and came back to wrap a hand around her forearm.
“It’s stolen,” he growled. “Now move your ass!”
Kyra blinked as he hauled her forward again and they continued. As they got near, Riddick spotted a few vines that had begun to snake up along the hull. It didn’t look like any of them had come up near the hatch so he gunned it to the door. It opened as he reached it, sensors registering his presence. He jumped inside the moment he could fit through the opening, hearing Kyra step up behind him. After one step inside she cried out suddenly in pain. Wheeling around, he saw that she was fighting to maintain her hold on the door frame. One of her legs was caught by a vine that was pulling her back out and trying to constrict her.
He wrapped his arms around Kyra’s torso and braced a foot against the doorway. Pulling with all his strength, he managed to get her mostly inside the hatch. One of his blades came out with a flash and he severed the vine just below her foot, artfully ignoring the amount of blood that poured from it as it retreated and the hatch began to close. On the floor, Kyra was pulling at the remains of the vine and the needle-like hairs that had embedded in her skin. Her leg was a bloody mess of small holes and she looked pale in the ship’s interior lights.
“Go,” she said when he knelt next to her, “get us the hell out of here!”
He didn’t need to be told twice. Riddick ran for the cockpit and threw himself into the pilot’s seat. He drew up the controls and turned on the view screen to see a particularly large vine snaking its way up the front of the ship. With vicious satisfaction, he slammed the engines into full power and brought the ship up, watching the vine rip apart. It burned to cinders as the ship tore through the moon’s atmosphere, the charred remains eventually falling away. When he was far enough from the spinning ball of death he set the ship to orbit the gas giant and returned to where he’d left Kyra.
At some point between when he’d left her and now, she had removed the dead vine and collapsed into unconsciousness. She was so pale he thought she might be dead were it not for the sound of her heartbeat and the slow rise and fall of her chest. She had lost more blood in a matter of seconds than he cared to think about and her leg was still bleeding slowly. He hoped that vine didn’t come with some kind of anticoagulant. He lifted her up off the floor and carried her back to the sleeping bunks where he set her down on one and pulled her pant leg up to get a look at the damage.
There was another injury there, at least a few days old and wrapped in a strip of cloth that matched her shirt. The small puncture wounds from the vine slowly oozed blood but there were too many of them to treat individually. He pulled the medical kit off the wall and popped it open. Inside he found a few basic first aid supplies and something that looked like a small welding torch with a pointed metal tip instead of a spout. No pain killers, he thought, typical. Of course Necromongers wouldn’t have pain killers. They barely ever felt any pain.
Riddick pulled several wound dressings out of the kit and a bottle of something that smelled like alcohol and kneeled beside her to set to work on cleaning up Kyra’s leg. When he had it wrapped up to the point that he wasn’t in fear of her bleeding to death, he sat back on his heels and looked the rest of her over. She was still out cold, for how long he couldn’t say. He’d driven her hard this time, as he had on Crematoria, and she’d kept up with him. It gave him hope that, if she still insisted on following him to the ends of the ‘verse, she might one day be able to handle walking the dark places of it with him.
Kyra had a long way to go before that was possible and she still needed to prove to him that she wasn’t a child anymore, though not in the way she thought she had to. There was also the little problem that had come up that morning while she was watching him, thinking he was asleep. The same scent of arousal had washed over him as when he’d had her pressed against those prison bars. He was sure she had no idea what kind of signals she was sending out to him. As far as he knew, her mind saw him as a big brother. Her body, however, was telling him a different story. It responded to him the way almost every woman did, with visceral desire, and Riddick had never been one to deny himself the pleasures of the flesh when offered up so willingly. Until now.
If Kyra actually wanted to go there, things might be different but she was still so young. Hardened killer or not, lost innocence or not, she had no idea what she would be getting herself into if she went down that road with him. She would have to make it damn clear that every part of her was willing before he’d even consider it. And he would consider it. But it had to be Kyra who took that road, not Jack. There was no place for a child like Jack in a world of animals. And even if she wasn’t interested in that Riddick could still have some fun with her, keep things interesting. A little bit of healthy sexual tension never hurt anyone.
He stood and left her on her bunk, thinking about where they should go now that they were both out of immediate danger. Mostly, it depended on what happened after Kyra woke up. They would have a talk, she would probably assume he intended to leave her somewhere again, and if it looked like she still couldn’t trust him he might actually consider doing it. Eventually, he would have to go back to his own little army again as well, just to remind them that he still held their chains. How long he could stay gone before they started to chafe at the bit was a little tricky. If he kept in contact, he could stretch it out for as long as he wanted but he ran the risk of Kyra finding out about his association with them and worse, they might find out about her. That would put her at risk for all kinds of nefarious schemes.
No, Kyra had to be kept out of that circle for as long as possible. Eventually he might tell her when he thought she could handle hearing about it, though he wouldn’t lie to her if she asked. Riddick never lied. Technically he hadn’t lied about the ship either, only told her a half-truth. He’d taken it without asking and without telling anyone so it really was technically stolen. It just wouldn’t be looked for. Riddick brought up a few possible destinations as he chewed over plans in his mind. He noticed that there was a message waiting for him from the Basilica, probably from Vaako. He ignored it for now and focused on picking a place to send them in the meantime while he figured out where they were ultimately going to go.
Flipping through a few options, he picked one that was a waystation on a planet a few weeks away. It was a long trip but it was also the closest place to hit up for untraceable supplies and to pick up a different ship. Necro ships were too notorious, drew too much attention. It also gave his “loyal” subjects an easy way to find him and fuck up his plans. Get to the waystation and he could send this one home and continue on with something a bit less obvious, a bit more his speed. He tapped in the destination coordinates and gave the moon IG-4 his best one-finger salute as the ship turned and took off on its new heading.
Chapter 33: Day 4, Necromonger Jump Ship, Somewhere in Deep Space
Two days. It took two days for Kyra to return to the world. She greeted the darkness of her unfamiliar surroundings with the most poignant phrase she knew.
“Fuck me …”
Her entire body felt like it belonged to someone else. She ached all over and fought weariness so strong that it threatened to pull her back down into the abyss. She wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep but she was too thirsty, hurt too much, and needed to pee too badly. Scrubbing her eyes with one hand, Kyra called for the lights and squinted as they came on in the cabin. The room she occupied wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet and housed six cramped bunks, stacked in pairs, on its available walls. There was an open medical kit on the floor below her bunk.
Kyra remembered the last thing that had happened before she lost consciousness. She examined her leg to find a clean wrapping on it with only a few tiny spots of blood. It had to be Riddick’s handiwork and he’d probably changed the bandage recently. Experimentally, Kyra sat up and tested her foot, a small shiver travelling up her body in the cool air. Cool air. Right, that’s a thing. She had almost forgotten. She flexed her foot and winced with each small stab of pain. Thankfully, when she tried to stand on it, it supported her weight without issue. She was relieved to find she could walk with minimal discomfort. She hadn’t taken any serious damage, she’d just been stabbed by about a hundred needles and nearly been sucked dry.
Beside her bunk Kyra spotted her crumpled sack next to a mysterious cup of water. On the floor next to the cup was the little packet of painkillers she’d picked up such a long time ago at the ruined settlement. She didn’t really mind that Riddick had gone through her things since she’d completely forgotten about the pills. They were old but were probably still good. She tore the packet apart and chased them down with the cup of water, swallowing so quickly that she nearly inhaled it and had to cough.
In the corridor, Kyra could hear a slow metallic schnick sound coming from one end. She thought it must be coming from the cockpit. She went in the opposite direction and peeked into a door that was adjacent to the cabin to find a small lavatory with a toilet, a sink, a small mirror, and a shower just big enough for one person to squeeze into. She eyed the shower with gratuitous yearning. I’ll be seeing you very soon. For now, she thought it best just to take care of her immediate business, wash her face a bit, and check in with the her driver.
Refreshed, she padded barefoot up to the cockpit. When she passed the hatch on the way, she noticed a curious lack of blood stain on the floor. The remains of the vine were gone as well. A mental image of Riddick scrubbing the floor like one of Imam’s housemaids almost made her laugh aloud but she tamped it down as she came into the room.
The sound she’d heard earlier turned out to be the sharpening of a blade. Riddick was lounging in one of the passenger seats at the back of the cockpit with a big knife in one hand and a whetstone in the other, running the stone along the blade’s edge. On closer inspection, it turned out to be her hunting knife. He gave the blade a few more strokes and set the stone down so he could inspect his work. He then gave the knife a few flips to test the weight and probably show off a bit. When he was satisfied with it, he finally acknowledged her presence.
“Big knife,” he said.
For such small hands, she practically heard him thinking. She crossed her arms and leaned against the near wall with lidded eyes.
“What, you think I can’t handle something that big?”
Riddick said nothing, just stared through his goggles. It took Kyra a few seconds to process her inadvertent innuendo. She rolled her eyes at him and turned around with a huff, heading right back out of the room.
“I need a shower.”
She told herself firmly that her voice was only husky because she’d just woken up. Riddick was up and across the room in half a second, hooking a thumb into the waistband of her pants. She froze while he slid the cold knife back into the spot where she usually kept it. He was so gentle with the motion that the razor tip barely grazed her skin. She looked down at the blade when it was seated and then back at him over her shoulder, trying to act as casual as she could. His thumb was still in her pants.
“Thanks,” she said flippantly and walked away like it was something that happened every day.
Riddick let her go. Once again, her body had given her away. Did she have any idea how easy she was to read? Most people didn’t. Then again, most people didn’t have his heightened senses or his exceptional talent for observation and deduction. He waited exactly ten minutes before the compulsion to observe overcame him.
He crept down the corridor and followed the sound of running water, stopping just out of view. His luck that the showerhead was on the opposite side from the doorway and that the sliding doors on this ship were completely soundless. He entered just far enough to see Kyra inside the stall, not much more than a blurry figure through the fogged plexiglass. There was a pile of gauze wrapping on the floor next to a towel and her clothes were in the sink smelling of months of dirt, sweat, and her natural pheromones. He resisted the temptation to sniff them.
Even with the steam fogging up his view he could see her contours. The curve of her ass, the arch of her spine, and the swell of her breasts whenever she raised her arms to do something with her hair. He could also see that her nipples were hard. That scent of arousal, dampened by water, taunted him again. He wondered what she was thinking about whenever she got like this. Unknowingly, she answered his question.
“Riddick,” she breathed, the word barely ghosting over her lips.
How interesting, he thought as she brought a hand down and touched the spot on her hip where his thumb had been. I guess that answers that.
“Fuck …” she whispered and shook her head, scrubbing her hands over her face.
Yeah, that’s gonna happen. There was no doubt now that she was into the idea and that he was the source of her body’s amusing response. He knew he’d caused some of it, but he hadn’t been certain until now that it was him specifically and not just some unconscious biological reaction that she was unaware of. So what to do about it now? He could make himself known to her, walk right into that tiny space and get in her face. His cock twitched at the idea of wrapping her flesh around him, sinking in deep. But she wasn’t ready for that. In many ways, she really was still a child, and Riddick didn’t do bad things to children.
No, he had a better idea. Kyra wasn’t going to leave his side no matter how hard he tried to push her away. And if he tried to disappear again, she would tear the ‘verse apart to find him. They both knew that now. And she had so much potential to work with. He could take his time. Build her up into something truly formidable. Tame her animal and train it, hone it to a razor edge, and all the while he could unwrap her. Slowly, like a gift meant just for him. Work her up into such a frenzy that all she could see, think, and feel was him. She was his Kyra after all. And God help whatever stupid fucker tried to mess with her after that.
He practically salivated over the idea, his animal side bearing its teeth hungrily. But there was something that had to happen first. She had to overcome Jack, kill the child inside herself. She claimed to have already done that, but he knew her better than she thought he did. There was still a lot of Jack left in her. The need to kill it off was a regretful fact but also an inevitability, especially if she had any chance of surviving in his world. Riddick would be lying to himself if he thought he wasn’t going to miss the little brat. She was a cute kid, but it was time to move on. He slid out of the lavatory unnoticed and returned to the cockpit to get the ship’s cryosleep cuffs prepped.
Kyra wrapped up her shower when she finally felt completely scoured and clean. She watched the grime of the past few months swirl around the drain and disappear. Thinking back, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this clean. Cleanliness as a woman was often perceived as an invitation in prison so she had learned to get comfortable with filth. Now, for the first time in years she thought she could make a habit of this.
She stepped out and dried herself off, taking her clothes back to her room and tossing them in the little sanitizer built into the wall. The gauze went into the disposal below it. She used what remained of the wrappings in the medical kit to cover up her leg once more. As she dressed it, she examined the puncture wounds more closely. They were painful and red but not swollen and they weren’t bleeding anymore, which was a good sign. There so many of them. So many tiny holes that it was a wonder she hadn’t come out of it worse than she did.
She covered them up as best she could and pulled the only set of clean clothes she had left out of her sack. To call them clean might have been a slight embellishment. They were stained and worn but at least to her nose they didn’t stink so they would have to do. The last touch she added by tying her mane of hair back. She fussed with the few rebellious strands that always seemed to escape but they kept evading her attempts to tame them so she let it be. Finally, girded and ready, the painkillers doing their work nicely, she went out of the cabin and went to find Riddick. Might as well face the music.
As she came closer to the cockpit she heard a voice she didn’t recognize coming from the ship’s communications speaker. The volume was turned so low that she could barely make out the words and then only once she was almost to the doorway.
“-longer this is going to take. I can’t keep them occupied forever, Lord Mar-“
The voice cut out as she entered and she caught a glimpse of a man with a strange haircut and a stony expression that looked vaguely familiar before Riddick turned the video message off. Riddick turned to look at her and she forgot the man immediately. She couldn’t tell with his goggles on but she had a strong impression that he was looking her over very thoroughly. Without realizing it, she straightened her spine as she came over to him and took the copilot’s seat, slinging one leg over the armrest.
He had followed her with his head as she passed him and sat down. She thought she saw a miniscule flare of his nostrils and there was an awkward moment of silence between them when it almost felt like he was going to attack. He broke it by turning away and deleting the message that he had been listening to earlier. When he was done, the ship’s view screen brought up a progress report detailing their current destination and how long it would take to get there. They were headed to a place called Planetary Waystation Fios. She’d never heard of it but apparently it was about seventeen days away.
“There some place you want me to drop you off,” he asked casually. “In case there’s someone you need to check in with.”
Was he baiting her about leaving again? Was this a test? If it was, she’d learned her lesson back on IG-4. She wasn’t going to assume anything about his intentions here. She did think about it, though. As much as she didn’t like living in the civilized world, she missed Imam. Maybe they could make a stop so she could visit the man and let him know that she was still alive and mostly well. She leaned back and stared at the image of the planet on the screen as it spun slowly.
“Not really. After you left, I never found a place that felt like home. Never let myself get attached to anything or anyone. Just never felt right,” she shrugged. “I guess we could visit Imam for a while. I’m sure he’d be glad to see us both.”
A terrible heavy silence followed. When Kyra looked over she saw that Riddick was tensed up, his head dropped to stare at the floor. He was wearing a look of regret that Kyra had never seen before. No …
“Holy man’s dead,” he said, cutting her off.
Kyra had no words. The holy man, one of the only survivors of the Hunter-Gratzner crash, and the only father figure she had ever known, was gone? How could that have happened with someone like Riddick there to protect him? Had Riddick been there? If he had, was it he who … she stopped herself before the thought fully formed but it was too late. Riddick looked at her, saw the flash of it in her eyes, and fury filled him.
“I didn’t fucking kill him, Kyra,” he snarled at her, causing her to flinch and look away. “He died protecting his family.”
Kyra felt horrible for even half-considering that Riddick was capable of killing a friend like that. She felt numb, unable to process her thoughts clearly. Thinking about Imam’s death was all she could do until she remembered that he had a wife and a child when she’d left him to search for Riddick. She turned back to the man next to her.
“They’re safe,” he said simply. His fury seemed to have calmed.
“Then, I guess I have nowhere to be.” Her voice was small and weak now and she swiped angrily the tear that had managed to escape. She dropped her eyes to stare at her limp hands, curled in her lap. She had killed people with these hands. She could take down almost anyone with them. And yet, she hadn’t been there to use them when one of her only friends needed her.
“Then you’re with me, now.”
The words didn’t penetrate at first. When they did she wasn’t sure she’d heard them correctly. She snapped her focus back to him, eyes hard and slightly suspicious.
“You go with me, Kyra,” he said.
Her heart leapt.
“For real? For how long?”
“Until you’re not.”
He said it like there had never been any other option. She could have fucking kissed him.
“Who were they,” he asked, cutting her off again and completely derailing her train of thought.
“The mercs you signed with. Who were they? I need names.”
She wracked her brain, trying to remember. She had understandably blocked a lot of what happened back then out of her mind. Anyone in that situation would.
“I can’t really remember their names. Not all of them. I remember the leader though. He was this short, greasy little fuck. Thought he was a badass just because he was clever and carried around this big shiny blade. San-something,” she struggled to bring the name forward. “Santana. That’s all I got.”
Riddick took it all in and nodded.
“Let me know if you remember anything else.”
“Why do you want to know?”
Riddick got up and walked over to the passenger seats. He motioned for her to follow and guided her into one, fitting the cryosleep cuff on her arm and activating it. Her vision was starting to go fuzzy when he spoke again, his voice so deep and menacing that it vibrated through her bones.
“They hurt one of mine, so I’m gonna kill ‘em.”
The words chased her down into sleep.
After Kyra was down for the count, Riddick returned to the pilot’s seat. There was still something he needed to do before they could truly get this little journey underway. He tapped a few commands and brought up a message interface. Into the text field he wrote out a few lines of text and reread them once to make sure they got the point across. He entered “Don’t call me, I’ll call you” in the subject field and addressed it to “The Hubby” just to piss Vaako off.
He saved it locally and entered the Go Home protocol into the autopilot queue so that he could send the ship off with the touch of a button when he was ready. Vaako would find the message when the little vessel crawled back to the Basilica. What he did with it after that was no longer Riddick’s concern. It was his own way of making sure his private army didn’t come looking for him while making it very clear that he would be back, and that they’d better behave while he was gone.
Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t. After they got his message, he probably had no more than a year before they became a problem for him. Better make it count, he thought as he glanced back at his sleeping companion. Companion. The word felt strange but not unpleasant. He stuck his arm in a cuff and did his best to get some rest on the way to Fios.
Chapter 34: Day 21, Necromonger Jump Ship, Orbit Around Planetary Waystation Fios
Kyra flopped into the copilot seat like a sack of potatoes as Riddick steered the jump ship down toward the station on the planet rapidly filling the view screen. It was another desolate grey rock but it had enough minimal life to sustain a thin breathable atmosphere. She was rested and wired now, fidgeting in the seat with anticipation. She resembled Jack more in this moment than she had since Riddick had left her on New Mecca nearly six years ago. The fidgeting was a little annoying but her energy was contagious. It seeped into him and made him want to do things. Things to work that energy out of her and leave her panting.
He had to bring the ship down far enough away from the station itself that no one would get a close look at it, setting it down behind a massive boulder. Kyra was out the door and looking around the second the hatch was fully open. Riddick made a stop in the tiny hold of the ship to collect his few belongings and grabbed Kyra’s on the way out. She looked at him curiously when he tossed her sack to her. He came over and handed her one of his untraceable credit chips and a thigh sheath that would function with her big knife.
“We’re swapping ships,” he informed her, “so I need you to do some shopping.”
Kyra examined the credit chip. Her brows shot up at the amount she read when she pressed the tiny button on it. He handed her a small piece of torn paper. Where he’d managed to find paper was beyond her but it had an old and slightly brittle feel to it. On it was written a name and nothing more.
“Find this guy and tell him an old friend needs a ship refitted in bay thirteen. If he gives you any trouble, tell him it’s for an old watchdog. I’ll find you later after I take care of a few things. Get whatever you need for yourself, too.”
Kyra stared at him for a long time, looking like she wanted to say something. Eventually she pocketed the note and the credit chip and strapped the sheath to her thigh. Riddick admired the way it hugged her leg from behind his goggles as she slipped her knife into it. When she turned to go he caught her upper arm with his big hand.
“And Kyra,” he purred into her ear as he came up behind her, “try to behave yourself in there. We don’t need to get noticed, and there will be punishment for bad behavior.”
He saw goosebumps rise on her skin as he released her and she dashed off. Since her shower, she’d become much more noticeably mature in the physical sense and her natural scent was much stronger now that it wasn’t masked by a layer of dirt and sweat. He drank it in whenever she was close and it brought his possessiveness out when he thought about the looks she was going to get in there. Hopefully, the big knife would be enough of a stay the fuck back to keep anyone from trying anything until he could find her again.
He wasn’t really worried about anyone jumping her. He knew she could defend herself against at least a few people. The station also had its own private security force that did a half-decent job of keeping the peace and if she stayed out of the back alleys, no one would risk catching their attention to go after her. Still, there was always a chance that something could go wrong. Trying not to work himself into a protective frenzy, Riddick went back into the ship and tapped the button to send it home. When it was airborne and on its way, he headed for the station as well. Might as well get this little shit show on the road.
There were more people here than Kyra had seen in years. The place was practically crawling with dirty prospector types, packs of mercs, roving security patrols, and the occasional cluster of working girls. All of them, even the prostitutes, were very obviously armed. Store fronts with various signs and labels lined the apparent main thoroughfare and she could see other big streets running parallel to it through wide connecting passageways and narrow alleys. Over the tops of the buildings in the distance she could see a few ships coming and going from one unseen point near the edge of the station.
Very few people walked these streets alone and wherever she went, heads turned to follow her. Mostly men, but some women too. Those that stared longer than a few seconds invariably took note of the big knife on her thigh. She ignored them all. As she moved along the main street, she kept her eyes open for anything of interest and for something that would give her a clue on where to find the person whose name was on the note. There were a few clothing stores she took note of where she might be able to find good functional clothes to replace her rags. She spotted two weapon shops that appeared to have an array of bladed weapons she was tempted to browse. She even saw a specialty store that looked like a promising place to get hold of a few practical grooming supplies.
When she reached the end of the main street she turned down a side passage and passed a store with blacked out windows and an unlit sign that said MacAffee’s Mercantile. The name matched the surname of the person she was looking for but the store looked closed. Maybe if someone was here they would at least know where to find her target. She tried the door, expecting it to be locked, but it opened easily. Inside, the store was lit by flame lamps in an archaic style and there were two men conversing at the long wooden counter at the back of the store. One looked like a particularly sleazy merc and was standing on her side of the counter with his back turned. The other looked like a heavily muscled man wearing a plaid button-down, faded jeans, and a dirty apron. He had short-cropped flame red hair and sharp green eyes. His square face was wrinkled by deep laugh lines but he wasn’t smiling at this moment.
She entered and approached the counter behind the merc. He was telling the man something about his ship and what he wanted put in it and where. When she was a few feet away the man behind the counter looked over at her and nodded when his eyes fell to her knife blade. He waited for the merc to finish talking.
“Not my job to do your housekeeping,” he told the merc in a resonant baritone. “You’ll get your goods. Where you put ‘em ain’t my problem.”
He stared at the merc unblinking and with unwavering calm. The merc was clearly not happy about it but he didn’t argue.
“Fine, just make sure you deliver, Dan. We’re done here,” he spat, like he wanted to get the final word.
The merc turned as if he intended to leave but caught sight of Kyra and paused. Again she felt eyes rake her over and for a second it seemed like the man was going to say something. Dan cleared his throat from behind the counter. The merc shot him a glare and stomped his way out the door.
Now that she had his full attention, Kyra was inexplicably nervous. His sharp eyes were locked on her thigh sheath. He didn’t have a particularly sinister look to him but he carried himself in a way that said he knew how to handle himself in a brawl. Not knowing where to start, she pulled the piece of paper out and handed it to him. He unfolded it and read it.
“Yeah, that’s me,” he said passively.
“I’m supposed to tell you that your friend needs a ship refitted in bay thirteen,” she said when she found her voice again.
“I don’t have any friends. Who’s askin’?”
That threw her for a loop. It took her a second to recall what Riddick told her.
“An old watchdog?”
Dan barked a laugh at that and she could see that he had a big, friendly smile when he chose to show it off. No wonder he had so many laugh lines. He nodded at her sheath.
“He give you that?”
She put a hand on it absently and he grinned a knowing grin as if he was party to some secret she didn’t know.
“Alright, tell him I’ll send someone down to take a look in about half an hour,” he said, handing the piece of paper back to her. She pulled out the credit chip and tried to offer it to him but he pushed her hand back gently. “No, sweetheart. That’s for you. I don’t trade in creds.”
She felt like a little girl again in this man’s presence. Underneath his bulging musculature he radiated a gentleness that she’d never seen before. She wondered if he knew Riddick personally. If they really were friends. She wanted to ask him so badly but there was something in his eyes that begged her not to go there. She thanked him then and walked out.
She still had the credit chip in her hand. The thought of all this money at her disposal made her head swim. Was it stolen? No, Riddick wasn’t some petty thief and most of the time he had no use for money. Where, then, had it come from? It wasn’t really important enough for her to dwell on it too long. She had things to get done before Riddick came for her. Unable to resist temptation she went for the closest of the weapon stores she’d seen before, feeling like a kid in a candy shop.
After the fourth place she visited, Kyra finally noticed that she was being watched. It was difficult to tell in a place this crowded but there could be no mistaking the feeling that crept up her spine when she exited the building. Her instincts were kicking in. She made a few quick glances around, hoping to see Riddick somewhere nearby. She saw no one she recognized at first. Then she spotted the merc from Dan’s shop leaning against the wall of one of the cramped alleys a few stores down the street. He turned his head away rather obviously when her eyes swept over him. Had he been the one following her? If so, he must have been doing so since she left Dan’s place. How had she not noticed until now?
Something about this guy set off her alarm bells. It was something in his expression, a hungry look that she knew all too well. Her animal snarled when he looked her way again. She had to lose him before she lost control and tried to sink her knife into his eye socket. She wasn’t afraid of him by any means. He had a lazy appearance and walked with the exaggerated swagger of an overconfident idiot. But Riddick had told her not to get into trouble and she intended to abide by that.
She moved down the main street and took a side passage into the next major thoroughfare. The man did the same a moment later, appearing from a different side passage and making no attempt to hide his interest in her now. She moved again, taking one of the small alleys this time and drew up short when someone very broad stepped into the other end to block her way. Behind her the merc stepped into the alley and strolled toward her. She had a hand on her knife, tense and ready to strike, until the man spoke.
“Jack,” he drawled out long and slow. “How nice to see you again. Been a few years I see.”
He tilted his head and raked her body with his eyes. She suddenly felt sick.
“Did you come all this way just to see me? Broke out of a slam and everything, huh? I gotta say, I’m flattered.”
Another man had moved into the alley behind the merc to block that end. The man continued to move closer to her, his arms spread wide as if he intended to embrace her tenderly. An awful rushing noise had picked up in her ears, her body shaking with the memory of horrible things that had been done to her.
“Got a hit out on you, did you know that? Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna turn you in. Body like that would go to waste in a big ‘ol triple max, right guys?”
The other two men laughed their agreement as they too closed in on her. Her hand hovered, trembling, over her knife as her eyes lost focus. Images came to her that she hoped she would never see again. This man’s face, sweaty and grotesque, hovering over her in the darkness of a tiny room as she screamed her rage and defiance at him. He was almost upon her now.
“Tell you what, little Jack. Have some fun with us, for ol’ time’s sake. We’ll pretend we never saw you. ‘Kay?”
He reached for her wrist as the pulsing in her head came to a crescendo, her breath coming in quick spurts. When his fingertips brushed her skin she moved. He elbow came up in a flash and smashed into his face. She felt his nose crunch as the big one came up behind her. Spinning low under his grab she slashed out with her knife blade, splitting his stomach open. He cried out and staggered back, a hand over his exposed guts. An arm wrapped around her neck from behind and she stomped on the leader’s foot. He cursed and loosened his grip enough that she was able to twist free and back away from him.
The animal was in control now, the smell of hot blood thick in the air. She felt the shuffling of the big man near her back and swung her blade where she felt his neck should be. It sunk deep into his shoulder and lodged there, ripping free of her grip. She pulled a second smaller knife, a thin curved blade that she’d recently purchased, from a holster up her sleeve and sliced the big man’s throat open as he struggled with the blade in his shoulder.
“Fucking take her down! Now, god damnit!”
She pulled her hunting knife free when the big man’s corpse crumpled to the ground and turned to face a skinny man with dirty blonde hair and a shotgun. She charged him on instinct alone when he brought the weapon up, ducking under the shot as the stun round clipped her shoulder. He pumped the shotgun but never managed to get a second shot in. He dropped to the ground with her curved blade jutting from his neck and arterial spray coating his shoulder and the wall.
Somewhere nearby there was an alarm blaring and people were yelling but she paid it no mind. The merc who had called her Jack was on the ground now as she approached him with the slow predatory steps of a killer. Her eyes were wide and unseeing as she fell on him. She straddled his torso and balled his shirt in her fist, pressing the blade of her knife to his throat.
“Enough,” came Riddick’s voice from just inside the alley in front of her.
That one word was more effective at bringing her back to the present than a slap in the face. She blinked rapidly and raised her eyes to him. He was standing there in a cloak he hadn’t been wearing before, his goggles down. There was no expression on his face and it pained her to sit there under his scrutiny. When the man under her shifted and the smell of urine wafted to her nose, she got up and sheathed her hunting knife. She turned from the merc in disgust and pulled her smaller blade from the skinny man’s neck, wiping it on his clothes before she slid it into its hiding place.
She couldn’t look at Riddick right now. He’d probably seen everything in her eyes. Knew about the fear, the pain, the humiliation she’d felt. Between them, the merc got to his feet and stumbled toward the entrance Riddick was blocking.
“I knew you were a fucking mistake,” he spat, his voice cracking. “Santana was right about you. You’re a fucking monster, Jack. You weren’t even that good of a lay. I hope you get sent back to-“
The merc’s voice cut off with a choking sound. Kyra turned to see his neck caught in one of Riddick’s big hands. Riddick wasn’t looking at the man. He was still staring straight at her from behind his goggles. She saw the muscles in his arm trembling with restrained rage. Slowly, very slowly, he turned his head to the merc.
“No one said you could leave.”
The man gurgled as the grip on his neck tightened. His face went red, then purple, and his eyes began to roll back in his head. He clawed feebly at Riddick’s arm until a sickening crack ended his resistance forever. Riddick dropped the man’s body and turned back to Kyra as the sound of booted feet became apparent behind him. He walked forward without another word to grab her hand and drag her to the other end of the alley. She gave him no resistance and allowed herself to be led through the streets in the direction of the hangar bays.
As the world streamed by her vision narrowed so that all she could see was Riddick’s cloaked back ahead of her, his goggled head, and his arm. Numbly, she followed that arm down to where it was attached to a slender wrist that didn’t look or feel like her own. Is that my arm? It couldn’t be, it was way too big and splattered with blood. She looked at Riddick again. He was different somehow, a little older than she remembered and he wasn’t wearing the same thing he had been when he left her.
When he left me? She remembered then. I’m not Jack anymore, I’m Kyra now. Jack was weak. Jack couldn’t stop those men from doing what they wanted. Kyra could. She was Kyra. She was the killer, the animal. She had to be. Because Riddick hadn’t been there. But now he was. He came back for me. He had protected her again. He had killed for her again. But she had also protected herself. I’m stronger now, right? She wanted to ask him that. I’m a good killer now … right? Would he even answer? Did he even want her to be a good killer?
They came to bay thirteen and Kyra saw their new ride sitting sleek and dark on the cement. It gave the impression of a snake head and white lettering on the side said Adder. Though, with the hooded shape of the wings it looked more like a cobra head. Dan was standing next to it, directing someone who was carrying a wooden crate up the ramp into an open hatch in the front of the ship. He turned to greet them with a friendly smile that faded the moment he saw Riddick’s expression.
“Time to leave,” Riddick said without preamble.
Dan nodded without another word and whistled. The man that had been carrying the crate came running out and left the hangar. Riddick released Kyra at the base of the ramp and headed into the ship without looking back. Kyra stood there with one foot on it, staring blankly after him. When she felt a hand on her shoulder she turned to see Dan looking at her with such open compassion and sadness that it nearly broke her.
“Stay with him,” he said as he squeezed her shoulder gently. “No matter how dark it gets.”
Dan left after that and she entered the ship, her body slow and numb. She moved up through the bowels of it and stopped when she came to the cabin. It was a tiny room with two bunks and a shelf on the opposite wall. She sat down on one of the bunks, dropping her sack to the floor, and put her head in her hands as the ship rose. Then she cried. She cried for a long time. And when she was done, she slept.
Kyra was only asleep for a few hours before Riddick woke her up. It was getting to the point now where she could sense his presence in a room even if he was being completely silent. She blinked at him through puffy eyelids and found him leaning in the doorway to the cabin, arms folded across his chest as he watched her. She wished he would take his goggles off so she could look him in the eye. She pulled herself up and swung her legs over the edge of the bunk, scrubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“Where are we headed,” Kyra asked groggily.
“Someplace far away,” he said cryptically. “But we gotta make another stop first. Your buddy back there didn’t have time to fix this thing up with a jammer before we had to pull out. Because someone couldn’t follow directions.”
Kyra winced and refused to look at him.
“I told you there’d be punishment, Kyra.” She heard a clear note of amusement in his voice and this time she did look at him. He had one of those smiles on that said she wasn’t going to like what happens next. The grin slipped off and his tone changed to one of absolute command.
She got up. He went into the hall and she followed. She could see he was holding something in his hand but he’d turned all the lights off in the lower half of the ship so she couldn’t make out what it was. He led her into the hold and pointed at an empty spot on the floor well out of reach of anything and right in front of a structural beam. She stared at the spot, then at him. When she didn’t move, he raised his goggles and met her eyes with his own, their reflective surface flashing.
Absurdly, she obeyed, feeling like a whipped dog. She wasn’t into bondage play. It reminded her too much of being tied up and used in ways she didn’t want to remember. Of being locked away in a prison for so long she’d forgotten what freedom tasted like. She knew what was coming and there was no way she could see it as anything other than true punishment. And Riddick knew that. She could see that much in his eyes. He bent down and gently moved her hands behind her. He wasn’t forcing her to do this. She was accepting her punishment willingly because she really did feel like she deserved it.
“These are the first chains I learned how to break,” he said as he fastened the simple strapped cuffs around her wrists. “You’re gonna learn how to do it too.”
There was a final click and he shifted around to her front. He placed the tips of his fingers under her chin, lifting her face to him. There was a hint of knowing compassion in his eyes. It burned her to look at it.
“The punishment ends when you want it to, Kyra.”
With that, he left her. As his footsteps receded, she felt the darkness close in around her. Thoughts floated in and out of her head like demons, taunting her. Somewhere back there, she had regressed. Jack had resurfaced and laid bare her weakness. Yes, she’d slaughtered two men but it hadn’t been with a clear head. She’d gone back into that dirty room with that bastard merc and her fear had taken control of her, driven her animal side into a reckless frenzy.
Worse than that, she had betrayed Riddick’s trust. She had become an inconvenience to him, put a kink in his plans because of her carelessness. She knew how he reacted to the people who did that. The fear of what must be coming now twisted in her gut. There was no way he would let her stay with him now. Not after becoming a liability. And she was hunted now, just as he was. A new piece of information that added one more complication to the mix that Riddick didn’t need. This punishment was only the beginning.
Experimentally, she tried wriggling her hands in the cuffs. The leather creaked and seemed to tighten instead of give. No matter how she twisted, the cuffs did the same thing. After a few more attempts she gave up and slumped back against the beam. Trying something different, she twisted her body and felt the hole in the beam that the cuffs were attached to. They were connected there by what felt like a solid metal ring. She couldn’t reach the ring well enough to get a hold of it because the cuffs were too wide and stiff to allow her hands much range of movement. The beam itself had no breaks in it. She already knew that from having looked at it before.
Now what, she wondered. Should she just give up and wait for Riddick to come for her again? He would come for her again, right? This time, she wasn’t so sure. She thought to call out for him, ask him to take the cuffs off, but something in the way he’d spoken to her earlier said that he wouldn’t do that. She would be free of her punishment only when she could end it herself. But how? She had escaped from restraints before but these were not familiar to her and she knew she wasn’t nearly as skilled as Riddick. There had to be some kind of trick to it but she wasn’t seeing it.
Her frustration began to build as she started to run out of options. She couldn’t see a clear way through this and her arms were starting to cramp up. She growled and started yanking at the cuffs, banging the metal ring as hard as she could against the beam. She twisted and turned and growled again, releasing her frustrations into the empty space. This went on for several minutes until she tired herself out, her chest heaving. She leaned back against the beam again and closed her eyes in defeat.
The hum of the ship around her began to lull her into a bleak trance and she began to lose track of time. How long had she been down here now? Hours, days? Riddick hadn’t come back even with all the noise she’d made. He really wasn’t going to come for her again, was he? This time, she was on her own. What if he’d gone into cryosleep and left her here to live or die only by her own fortunes? It was something he was known to do, after all. She hated herself for even thinking it but she couldn’t honestly say she’d blame him if he did. After this thought, she started to cry again.
“Riddick …” she whispered into the darkness, her voice quavering.
There was no reply.
At some point Kyra must have dozed off because she was awakened by the sound of footfalls near the entrance to the hold. She shook her head a bit to clear the sleep and saw Riddick’s eyes gleaming there, his huge frame a dark shadow against the small amount of light bleeding down from the upper deck. He walked over to her and held a cup in front of her lips. She accepted it and drank deeply of the water, aware that her bladder was on its way to becoming a problem.
When she was finished, he set the cup down and hesitated as he looked her over. She must have looked absolutely miserable because he sighed heavily and traced a thumb along an exposed area of her wrist. By the sting of his touch she knew she was developing a nice bruise.
“Giving up already,” he asked, sounding disappointed.
Kyra had to think about how she wanted to answer. He was here with her again. He really had come back for her and now he seemed to be offering a way out. Accept it, and she accepted her failure. Regardless of whether or not he was going to toss her aside after this, she had come too far now to accept failure. He had done too much for her now to just give up. She owed him much more than that. She owed him more than she could ever repay.
Kyra had brought this punishment on herself and now she had to face it like the adult she was. Face it as Kyra, not Jack. Maybe if she proved to him that she could do this, it would restore some faith in her. Show him that she could learn, that she could get stronger. That she deserved a second chance. She met his eyes in the dark with as much determination as she could muster and said nothing.
“Good girl,” he purred, his praise lending her strength.
He stood then and turned to head for the door but paused as he reached it. She saw him turn to look at her over his shoulder.
“Try breaking something other than the chain this time,” he said.
Then he was gone again.
What the hell is that supposed to mean, she thought bitterly. Break something other than the chain? Like what? The cuffs were solid leather and the ring was a good half inch thick. The beam then? No way could she manage to do that.
“Think, Kyra,” she whispered.
If she couldn’t break the beam, or the ring, or the cuffs then the only thing left the break was … of course. She’d been thinking about it all wrong. The cuffs tightened in one direction but in the other? She twisted her arms as far as they would go in the opposite direction from when she had tested the cuffs the first time. It hurt her to do it but the more she did so the more she felt the slight loosening of the straps. If she could just push her arms a little more in that direction, she could work a hand through the cuff.
But her arms wouldn’t go that far. Her shoulder joints were at the limit of their natural range of movement and it wasn’t quite far enough. She knew what she’d need to do to get it to work but the thought of it made her a bit sick. Come to think of it, wasn’t this similar to how Riddick had escaped his chains back in the crashed Hunter-Gratzner? If he could do it, she could do it too. It was just going to hurt like hell.
Kyra twisted her body so that she could square her shoulder with the beam and heaved a few breaths. She told herself that she’d been in more pain than this before and it didn’t help to ease her mind a single bit. Gritting her teeth, she threw herself into the beam and pushed. The first time she did it, she failed. The second time, she strained until the joint dislocated with a sickening pop and her shoulder flared with pain so intense that she saw spots in her eyes.
She collapsed forward with a cry of agony, the rush of her pulse heavy in her ears. She gasped for breath and waited for the rippling waves of pain to diminish enough for her to think. She pulled her dislocated limb at a new unnatural angle and with slow, agonizing progress she worked one wrist free. With one arm out of the cuffs, their constriction was rendered useless. Kyra was able to catch the edge of the leather on the side of the beam and slide her remaining hand free. After that, she pulled herself up into a sitting position, still gasping against the pain in her shoulder, and laughed.
And Riddick was there. He was kneeling at her side the moment she sat up, smiling at her like she’d done the greatest thing he’d ever seen. She turned to him, her defiance and her victory radiating from her.
“I win,” she whispered.
Riddick laughed aloud at that. Then he put a hand on her dislocated shoulder.
“This is gonna hurt,” he said and before she could react, he pulled her into his arms and popped the joint back into place.
She cried out again, the sound muffled against his shoulder. He held her there until the pain receded enough for her to pull away. Riddick helped her stand and led her back to the cabin, stopping along the way to let her use the lavatory. She sat heavily on her bunk and leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes and enjoying the freedom she had earned all on her own. Riddick sat on his knees in front of her and lifted her wrists, running his thumbs over the bruises that were developing there, tracing them with his eyes.
Kyra had never seen him like this before. He was gentle, almost apologetic, in the way he handled her. It was like he was sorry for the punishment that she had brought upon herself. It didn’t make sense to her. She had betrayed his trust back at the waystation and now he was acting as if he was in the wrong. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? She pulled her hands free, causing him to look up.
“Riddick,” she began, struggling to find words, “I’m sorry. Back there, at the station. I fucked up.”
Her voice broke. She swallowed and continued.
“I know I messed up but it won’t happen again. I swear to you, I won’t let it happen again.”
She was starting to ramble now, staring at her hands.
“You trusted me not to cause trouble but I let you down. I betrayed your trust. I became a liability.”
“But I know what went wrong back there. I lost control. I can fix that.”
“It’s just that the things that happened back then, after you left, it wasn’t easy for a kid to handle. I had to do something, block it out. But sometimes it comes back. And things like that happen. I can stop it from happening again so please, Riddick. Please don’t-“
He stopped her by threading a hand into her hair and cupping the back of her skull. Raising himself up, he pulled their faces together and for a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her. Instead, he placed their foreheads together and locked their eyes.
“Have I ever lied to you” he asked when he had her full attention.
“Then listen to me when I tell you this because I ain’t gonna say it again. Are you listening, Kyra?”
“I told you that you were gonna go with me. So when I say that, it means you’re with me. And when I say you’re with me until you’re not, it means until you’re dead or you decide you wanna go. So stop assuming that you know what I’m gonna do when I already told you exactly how this is gonna go down. Understand?”
Kyra closed her eyes and sighed her acceptance. He leaned back and released her but his hand slid down her arm and took hold of one of her wrists again.
“I wasn’t there, I get that,” he said. There was an angry wrinkle between his brows and a muscle in his jaw flexed.
“You went through some really fucked up shit because of me. But I never did anything for you that I didn’t want to do. And I never will. The only thing you need to do is figure out what you want.”
Kyra had no words for that. Riddick stood and left the room. He was right. She had been assuming she knew what his intentions were again. All this time she’d forgotten the simple answer. Riddick did what he wanted, he did what was unexpected, and he never lied. Yes, he looked out for himself above all others but that extended to those few he considered a part of his own. Kyra was a part of that. Imam had been part of that as well. And so long as she chose to remain that way, to be completely loyal to him, he wouldn’t let her fall. He would keep coming back. Because she was one of his own. She was his. It was that simple.
Kyra marveled at how stupid she’d been. How childish, yet again. It seemed like no matter how many times she tried to convince herself that Jack was dead, the kid just kept coming back. She had to find a way to kill the child for good if she was ever going to stay by Riddick’s side. But she had no idea how to do that. She knew part of the problem stemmed from the fact that she’d never really accepted the horrible things she’d been through or tried to come to terms with them. Whenever her animal side came out, the frenzy she felt came from that. It was why she had a hard time staying in control. But facing that part of her … she wasn’t ready for that. Thinking about it made her head hurt.
Kyra got up and immediately wished she still had those painkillers. She came up to the cockpit, her shoulder stiff and aching, and collapsed into the copilot’s seat with a groan. Riddick hadn’t bothered to put his goggles back on. He kept the ship mostly dark except for the dim glow of red emergency lights on the floor. He peeked at her and held out a hand. In it sat a small cluster of pills. I think I love this man, Kyra thought as she accepted them and took them dry.
“You never did answer my question,” she said as she fumbled with the cryosleep cuff attached to her chair. “Where are we going?”
“Gotta make a stop on the bad side of town,” he answered, “to get some things fixed so we can’t be tracked. After that, you’ll have to wait and see.”
Riddick actually seemed to be enjoying himself by keeping her in the dark on that part. She got her cuff in place and running. She was too tired to prod him for more information so she simply let sleep take her and thought no more of it.
Chapter 35: Day 35, The Adder, Somewhere in Deep Space
An alarm was blaring in Riddick’s ear, bringing him back to full wakefulness. He had only been half-asleep as usual so it didn’t take him long to assess the situation. The alarm was a proximity warning. Beside him, Kyra was stirring. He brought up an external view and saw that there was a ship pacing them within grappling range and it had a harpoon cannon swiveled to face them. He also saw that he was being hailed so he opened the communication line and waited for someone to speak.
“Adder, this is criminal recovery vessel Janice requesting acknowledgement. Please respond. You have seven minutes to comply before we designate you as FTR and open fire.”
The message repeated once and the channel went silent. Kyra was fully awake now and she was looking at him, expecting him to take the lead. He growled his annoyance. Great, just what we need right now. Mercs. He keyed his end of the channel.
“The fuck you want,” he snarled into the receiver, “I was in the middle of something.”
There was a long moment of silence before the other ship piped in again. The voice on the other end sounded confused.
“This is criminal recovery -“
“I know who the fuck you are,” he snapped back, “I asked what the fuck you want.”
“Right, uh …” There was another long pause. “We’re looking for escaped convict Jack B. Badd, Alias: Kyra. If you are travelling with this person you are under obligation to surrender her immediately or be considered an accessory to her crimes.”
Riddick’s eyebrows shot up and he turned to Kyra. She was wearing the same expression and pointed a finger at her chest and mouthed, “Me?”
“Do you have this person aboard your vessel? Please respond.”
Riddick had a sudden thought. This could either be another boring chase or he could kick things up a notch and have some real fun. Besides, it was time to see what Kyra could do when she wasn’t freaking the hell out like she did back at Fios. Riddick put on his best “good behavior” voice.
“Adder, please respond or we will-“
“Yeah, sorry about earlier. I get a little grumpy when I wake up,” he replied with cheerful congeniality. In his peripheral vision, Kyra was staring at him wide-eyed and slack jawed. “She’s here. You want me to put her on?” Kyra was flapping her arms at him.
“What the fuck are you doing,” she hissed.
“Uh, never mind. She’s kinda busy. Tell you what, let’s all go down to that little planet over there and sort this out, ‘kay?”
He brought up an image of a dusty ball covered in a few splashes of green and blue in places. It was the perfect spot for what he had in mind and they were passing right by it. It took the other ship a few minutes to respond. Clearly they weren’t sure how to react to his sudden change of attitude.
“Yeah, okay. Why not? By the way, who is this?”
“Call me Dick,” he said cheerfully. Kyra snorted.
“Okay, Dick. After you. And take it slow. If we think you’re making a run for it, we’ll shoot.”
He did take it slow but only because he needed time to explain the game plan to Kyra.
Both ships touched down on the night side of the planet. They were facing each other with their external spotlights illuminating a broad area of dirt between them. Five men in ragtag outfits emerged from the mercenary ship and stepped into the center of the lit area. They were armed with guns but Kyra had no way to tell if they were loaded with stun rounds or good ol’ standard blow-your-head-off bullets. Each of them carried a flashlight either attached to their body or their weapon. She walked slowly down the ramp of the Adder’s open hold with her arms raised and met them in the central area.
“I heard you were looking for me,” she said with a coy smile.
She heard a soft thud off to her left, somewhere in the dark. None of the mercs appeared to have caught it. The man in front was about as average Joe as they come. Completely non-descript in every way. When he spoke, she recognized his voice as the one who had been speaking to Riddick over the comms channel. He looked around with a shrewd expression.
“He had to take a piss,” Kyra said.
The man looked suspicious but after a minute of ruminating on it, he let it go.
“Fine, whatever. You Jack? Alias: Kyra?”
“Who’s asking?” She tossed her head in challenge.
“The three guys you tore up on Fios, that’s who,” he said angrily. “Now unless you want to find out how that feels, you’ll get over here and let us take you in. I don’t really care either way. I just have a job to do. You don’t have to be alive for me to do it.”
The men around him raised their guns and pointed them at her. Any time now, Riddick, she thought while she tried not to show her nervousness. A second later the spotlights on both ships winked out, flooding the entire area in darkness. The flashlights each man held turned in various directions as they reacted to the lack of light. One of them shot where Kyra had been standing but she was already on the move, her blade in hand.
She moved wide around the side and stabbed one of the men near the back of the group in the neck. He dropped to the ground with a gurgling sound. The next she stabbed in her favorite place, the sweet spot. He fell to his knees and began to bleed out, his gun clattering to the ground. The third man turned and tried to pistol whip her with his weapon but hit only air. She dodged to the side and drove her knife through his ribs, following it with a stab to the gut. He went down screaming and writhing but didn’t get up again.
By now, the element of surprise was beginning to wear off and the remaining two mercs were adjusting to the dark. She rounded the fourth man and kicked out viciously at the side of his knee. He went down hard on it and brought his gun around, taking a shot at her. The bullet whizzed past her ear and she placed a hand on the hot barrel of his gun as she drove her blade into his eye socket. He screamed and crumpled at her feet. She ripped the blade out, flinging the viscera aside and turned to face the last man. When she did so, she took the butt of his gun to her cheek and fell back on her ass.
The last man was the nondescript merc who had done all the talking. He was a lot smarter than he looked because as soon as he’d gotten a hit in he danced back and locked his gun on her. She squinted as the attached flashlight beam temporarily blinded her and she rolled to her feet. He had her now and whenever she tried to move, he followed her with lightning reaction time, keeping her in his beam of light. She couldn’t rely on stealth now and he was just as fast as she was. She had to come up with a new tactic for this one.
“I can see why they put a bounty on your head,” he said through clenched teeth. “You really are an animal.”
This guy really seemed to have it in for her. She had to wonder why.
“You got a problem with me?”
“I got a problem with anyone who treats people like they’re disposable.”
“Tell that to the fucks who raped me like it was owed to them,” she spat, matching his anger.
“I don’t give a shit what happened to you,” he shouted, “you’re alive and they’re dead! My brother is dead!”
So that’s what it is.
She heard the cocking of his shotgun and ducked under the blast, pushing forward into his space and aiming her knife at his chest. He wheeled sideways and threw a punch at her side. The hit took her squarely in the ribs and knocked the wind out of her. Her hunting knife was knocked from her hand as she hit the dirt face first, coughing. She felt a foot come down in the center of her back and turned her head to meet the glare of the flashlight beam as the merc cocked his gun again and aimed for her head. She twisted under the pressure of his boot, reaching for her waist.
“I’m glad I get to be the one to put you down,” the merc sneered.
Before he could pull the trigger, she sunk one of her new blades into his calf. It was a long, thin stiletto that pierced straight through the muscle and lodged in the bone. The merc spasmed, screamed, and his shot went wide. Kyra used the moment to roll from under him and grab her dropped hunting knife. As he staggered backward, she kicked out and swept his feet out from under him. He went down hard on his back and his gun flew from his hands. Before he could recover, she brought the blade down in the center of his chest.
“You bitch,” he ground out as he jerked twice and then lay still.
Kyra yanked her knife free and pulled her stiletto out of his leg, seating the blades back in their appropriate places. Her blood was pumping so fast that she thought she might explode. The last time she’d been in a fight without losing control had been with Riddick there. She may have fought these men all on her own tonight but knowing he was watching, ready to step in if he thought she needed him, had kept her calm and focused just as it had back on Crematoria.
As the lights of the Adder came back on, she saw him standing at the top of the ramp, leaning on the door frame. He wore an amused smirk. Kyra surveyed her handiwork as he looked on. All of the men were formless, still heaps in the dirt. She had left some of them mortally wounded but they shouldn’t have died this quickly. Riddick must have finished them off while she was otherwise engaged. She felt a rush of pride at the realization that she’d overcome five men completely on her own. She was practically glowing as she came up the ramp to stand in front of Riddick, hands on her hips.
Riddick cocked his head to the side thoughtfully.
“Could use some work,” he said.
Kyra balked at him and stormed into the ship. He closed up the hatch and followed her up to the cockpit. She smelled so nice when she was pissed. She rounded on him when he got through the door.
“I just took out five mercs in a matter of minutes and all you can say is ‘Could use some work’?”
He sighed and crossed his arms, letting her finish.
“Tell me, Riddick! What was so wrong with what I did back there? I won, didn’t I?”
“I could try to explain it to you,” he said, “but I don’t think you’d get it that way. So why don’t I show you.”
Kyra glared at him for a good minute and then rose to the challenge.
“Okay, let’s do this,” she said with a toss of her head.
He led her back down to the hold. It was the largest room in the ship so it would serve well for a bit of sparring. He planted himself in the center of it and removed his goggles after setting the lights to half power. He motioned for Kyra to join him and pointed to a spot a few paces away from him. She moved to it.
“Get your knife out,” he ordered.
She slid the big hunting knife out and held it firmly. She seemed to know what was coming because her body was already coiled, ready to strike.
“Now,” he began, “come at me like you did with mister Average Joe back there.”
Kyra frowned. He could tell she was trying to work out what his game was here. There was no game, he just stood there and waited for her to make a move. She darted in and aimed her blade for his chest as she had done with the merc captain. He sidestepped it easily and struck her hand, knocking the blade free much as the merc had done. Her momentum carried her past him and she landed on her ass.
Determination hardened her face and she got up, picking up her knife once more. This time, she tried a feint and dodged to the side. He anticipated this and knocked the blade out of her hand again. She stumbled past him but kept her footing this time around.
“Okay,” she gasped, “I get it. I’m not exactly as skilled as you are, Riddick. We both know that.”
“No, you don’t get it,” he replied. “There’s nothing to stop you from being as skilled as me.”
“Then what the fuck’s the problem,” she spat. Her anger was picking up. He was having a hard time resisting the temptation to tease her.
“You’re being too predictable.”
“Too predic-“ she shook her head. “What constitutes predictable?”
He spread his arms, inviting her to come at him again. She took the invitation, coming at him with her fists this time instead of her knife. He caught her arms in turn, blocking both of her swings. She backed off and came at him with a kick. He caught her leg this time and held it. She yanked to free herself but he refused to release his grip. When it looked like she was going to pop from her mounting frustration, he patted her inner thigh and let her go, catching the unmistakable scent of her arousal as he hoped he would. Time to have some fun.
“Try something I haven’t seen before,” he said, taunting her.
He could see her brain working to come up with something as she stalked around him in a circle. She looked so much like a cat, her eyes studying him, her mind working to find a weak spot she could exploit. She wouldn’t find one, but trying and failing would be a good lesson. He followed her with his eyes, waiting for her to move.
She came at him from behind and aimed a kidney punch. He shifted slightly, caught her arm, and pulled her forward so that she was pressed up against his back with her arm trapped under his. He eyed her over his shoulder.
She stepped back and studied her prey once more. This time she came in from the side with a jab at his ribs. He turned into it and her hand glanced off his stomach harmlessly. He used her momentum this time to pull her in front of him with her back turned. He held her arm outstretched and pressed her up against him, sliding an arm around her waist as though they were dancing. Leaning down, he whispered directly into her ear.
She pulled away from him, spinning furiously and taking up a stance. Her scent was strong now, heavy in the air. He was working her up with every touch and she knew it. He could see it on her face. She knew he was toying with her. While he watched, he saw something like understanding pass over her features. This should be interesting, he thought, hoping that whatever she did next would be entertaining.
Kyra came at him directly from the front. She gave no indication that she intended to do anything other than just a standard punch. Disappointed, he caught it and drew her to him again, looking down at her with a shake of his head. He was about to chastise her when she did something that was completely unexpected. She reached down and slid her free hand up under his shirt, over his stomach.
The touch of her fingers on his skin burned like fire, catching his breath. He went very still. Her eyes were locked on his and with the movement of her hand he found that he couldn’t look away. Her fingers brushed past his nipple and slid around the side of his ribcage where she balled a fist and thumped him hard, smiling in triumph at the resulting jolt.
“Point,” she said, removing her hand.
In half a second he had her on the floor, pinned beneath him, the raw hunger in his gaze scorching her. She was caged by his arms and he had one leg planted between her thighs. A low growl emitted from his throat as he lowered his head to hers. He drank in her scent as she lay beneath him, surprised at the sudden turn, her arousal flaring to almost unbearable levels. He could feel her heat on his leg and it nearly drove him over the edge of control.
“Not bad,” he rumbled, “but if you use a tactic like that you better be prepared to handle the result.”
He said it thinking that she had no idea what she was goading him into and that she would back off. Maybe she really didn’t know, at least not fully. She surprised him yet again by pressing her mouth to his as if to tell him that she was prepared to handle it. He didn’t return the kiss at first, fighting his instinct to respond for a reason he didn’t quite understand, but when she sensed his hesitation and started to back away something in him snapped.
He devoured her then, lips and tongue on her mouth, neck, anywhere her flesh was exposed. She arched her body into him, one hot thigh riding up his leg. Her hands were inside his shirt again, raking lines of fire across his stomach and back. He moved a hand down to her ass and raised her hips to grind his cock against her through their clothes. The sudden tang of fear that spiked her scent stopped him cold.
Riddick blinked, the fear hitting him like a bucket of ice water. He raised himself up and separated his body from hers. The confusion in her eyes was painful to look at but this was something he couldn’t really explain to her. He knew something of what she’d been through during the time when he’d been hiding from the world, hiding from her. He had seen its effect on her back at Fios. She might not know it consciously, but her instinctive fear told him that she wasn’t ready. Not for what would have come next. It would end badly and he sure as hell wasn’t going to contribute to her nightmares.
He let out a heavy breath and got up to leave. He said nothing to her. There was nothing to say. She was getting to her feet, her eyes boring a hole into his back. Things had gone too far and he had let himself get carried away. Now, his only option was to remove himself from the situation. He’d never had to restrain himself like this with a woman until now. Especially one that was so obviously willing. On the way out, he grabbed his goggles and slipping them down over his eyes, the familiar comfort of blocking out the world a welcome balm on his nerves. He’d figure this out and they would go on, because he would will it to be so. He just hoped he hadn’t royally fucked his chances after this little debacle.
Chapter 36: Day 36, The Adder, Somewhere in Deep Space
Riddick had sharpened this blade eight times. Eight. If it were any sharper it would cease to exist. He was lounging on a bunk in the cabin, the ship thrumming as it made its way onward. His many blades were spread out around him. They had all been sharpened eight times. He growled low and forced himself to put the knife down, tossing the whetstone out of reach on the other bunk so he wasn’t tempted to reach for it again. He leaned his head back against the wall and stared at the plated metal ceiling overhead.
Whether he liked it or not, he was worried - genuinely worried - about Kyra. Since he had left her in the hold yesterday she had locked herself inside it, sealing the emergency bulkhead from inside so that he would be forced to override it manually if he wanted to gain entry. He hadn’t discovered this until a few hours after the incident when he went to find her, curious about why she was so quiet. He had called out to her twice but got no reply. That wasn’t unusual. What was unusual were the sounds he heard coming through the thick metal of the bulkhead door.
Somewhere inside that hold, Kyra was grunting and moving. It sounded like she was fighting something. Whatever she was doing, she clearly didn’t want to be disturbed. Normally, Riddick would have been more than happy to leave it at that. She didn’t seem to be hurting herself and she didn’t seem to need his help so she was better off working out her issues undisturbed. Except that it had now been over twelve hours since she locked herself in. That didn’t sit well with him and he couldn’t put a finger on exactly why.
His annoyance might have something to do with the fact that he didn’t know what was going on in there. Riddick was almost never in a situation that he didn’t know at least something about, and his observational skills were good enough to pick up on any minute clue that would tell him whatever he didn’t already know. This time he knew nothing, had no evidence to analyze, no telling clues. Just a literal blank wall, what he thought he knew about the person behind it, and complete lack of control over what was happening to her.
Riddick swung off the bunk, his agitation boiling over again. He went down to the closed bulkhead and listened, placing a hand flat against the metal. There was nothing now. No grunts or movements, no crying or screaming, not a single indication that Kyra was even still alive in there. A muscle in his jaw clenched. Should he override the door? Was she passed out on the other side? It was tempting, but something held him back. He couldn’t explain why but there was a voice in the back of his mind urging him to wait. Not yet, it told him.
Riddick turned from the door, unclenching the fist he hadn’t realized he’d made. Whatever was going on in there, it wasn’t something for him to be a part of or to control. And he would have to be okay with that. He would have to trust that when this was done, whatever this was, Kyra would come back to him. Funny, he thought sardonically, never thought I’d end up waiting for her to come back to me.
In the low light of the hold Kyra lay still and silent on the floor. She had been fighting this moment for a long time. For hours she had practiced, kicking and punching, working the hurt and the frustration out. She had kicked and punched and screamed until she was numb, collapsing flat on the cold metal floor with heaving breaths. Then, she had remained there on the floor, staring up into the half-lit space, letting her thoughts finally untangle and spread out before her.
Kyra knew exactly what had happened with Riddick. She knew because she had felt the fear bleed cold down her spine, unbidden but painfully familiar. She knew why it was there and who was responsible for it. Her confusion hadn’t been aimed at Riddick at all. It had been aimed at herself. It had come because she couldn’t understand in that moment why Riddick, of all people, had dredged up that fear in her. After all, she had made up her mind to allow him and only him willing access to her body in that way. And yet, when it looked like she was going to experience one of her deepest private hopes it had instead evoked one of her deepest private fears.
An internal argument had ensued shortly after her collapse. She had turned the entire event with Riddick over and over in her head so many times, examined what she had done wrong and how she could have done it differently in so many ways that she could have written a fucking essay on it. When she could do it no more, she turned on herself. She had cursed her fate, cursed the person she was now and the person she had been, sworn that she would kill the child in her once and for all even if it meant losing part of herself to do it.
She had cursed the men who had given her the horrible memories, cursed herself for failing to prevent what happened and for putting herself in the situation to begin with. She had cursed Riddick for leaving and cursed herself for disregarding his wishes and going after him in the only way she knew how. When she was out of things to curse she had cried. She cried for a long time in complete silence, the only sound being her occasional shuddered breathing, her hot tears pooling on the floor beneath her.
Now, Kyra was empty. She had no anger, no frustration, and no sadness. She was bled dry and her head was a cavern of silence.
“Lights off,” she said with a hoarse croak and the hold went from half-lit to completely dark.
She didn’t close her eyes. She knew what she had to do now. How to make everything right. But she didn’t want to do it. There was a festering wound inside her that needed to be lanced. It had been poisoning her since the beginning and she had blocked it from her mind, afraid of what she would become if she faced it. She pulled herself weakly to her knees and sat back on her heels.
In the darkness in front of her, an image came. She saw Jack, disheveled and shaven, broken goggles covering her eyes, still wearing the dirty outfit she had worn following the crash of the Hunter-Gratzner. The girl before her was motionless and expressionless, saying nothing as she stared at Kyra, waiting patiently. Kyra sighed as she faced the image, knowing what was coming.
“I have to do this, don’t I,” Kyra asked in a small, quavering voice.
Before her, Jack nodded once.
“It’s gonna hurt, isn’t it,” Kyra asked.
Jack nodded again, unsympathetic.
“Okay,” Kyra said.
Closing her eyes she cleared her mind and took herself back to the beginning, when she had left New Mecca in search of Riddick. She followed her own footsteps in her mind, images of the places she went and people she met flashing through her mental vision. She saw the merc group she joined, big dirty men who hadn’t yet figured out she was a girl, Santana’s greasy smile and shrewd eyes when Jack told him that she wanted to hunt the biggest game in the ‘verse. She saw the first moment when she had been discovered in the bathroom by one of the crew members, felt the fear that seized her when the man had told her what was going to happen next.
Her body shuddered violently at the next images that flooded into her mind. It only got worse from there. Once they knew she was a girl, it had changed everything. She was abused, laughed at, treated like a commodity among the others to be partaken of whenever they felt like it. But she had never once accepted any of it without putting up a fight. It almost became a game for them, like her fighting back made it more entertaining. Until she killed one of them.
Then, things changed again. She learned how to make them fear her. Learned that they became vulnerable just because they thought she wasn’t strong enough to resist, because she was a girl or a child. That had been their mistake every time. When she killed again, Santana had tried to mitigate the damage, tried to put her down. But she had been too quick, ready for him to turn on her. She had banked on making him consider her a liability. And when he tried to strike her down she had bitten back, already turned vicious by that point. She hadn’t killed him but she had escaped.
She had been called an animal for the first time then and Santana had sworn his vengeance at her back as she fled. She killed a lot of people after that and when the authorities finally caught up to her, it took them ten men to get her in chains. They didn’t bother putting her in a low security prison. They sent her straight to a double-max. There she had killed again, but not until she learned how brutal incarcerated men could be to unprepared women. Not until she learned how to defend herself from them, as well.
When enough people had died, someone had finally gotten the hint and sent her off to Crematoria to wrestle with the big boys. And through all of this she continued to search for Riddick, continued to hope that someday she would see him again before she was too far gone to be saved.
Kyra’s body was trembling, tears once more streaming down her cheeks as the memories flooded back to her. She did now what she had always been afraid to. She accepted them, let them boil over and wash away. She accepted what had happened to her and no longer turned a blind eye to what she had done for the sake of the only person she had ever loved. When her shaking had calmed and the pain had faded to a dull throb and her tears had finally stopped once more, Kyra opened her eyes.
Jack was still standing before her in the dark. As Kyra watched, Jack reached up slowly and raised her broken, dirty goggles to set them on her small forehead. The girl’s eyes gleamed with reflected light. Finally, Kyra understood. All this time, she had been thinking about it the wrong way. She had been trying to kill Jack while embracing the animal she had become, the animal that she wanted to be. She thought that Jack was the source of her weakness, that the girl was holding her back.
But she was wrong. Jack was her animal.
“I get it now,” she whispered.
In response, Jack smiled. It was the glorious smile of a child seeing a long lost friend for the first time in years. The warmth of it flooded Kyra, filled her heart with a peacefulness she had never known before. Jack came to her then and embraced her with her thin arms and Kyra sobbed again, one last time.
The bulkhead door was unlocked. Riddick hadn’t noticed until now and when he did notice, he had no idea how long it had been that way since he last checked. He leaned forward in the pilot’s seat and stared at the green outline of the door on the schematic he had drawn up on the view screen, almost not believing what he saw. It had now been fourteen hours since Kyra had locked herself away. Not like he’d been keeping track or anything.
He swung the seat around and took off at a not-quite-run down to the hold. When he turned the corner he found the doorway wide open. Beyond it the space of the hold was unlit and quiet. He approached the entrance and raised his goggles, searching for Kyra in the darkness. The air was filled with the ghosts of her emotions, an indistinct soup of anger, frustration, sadness, fear, and something else he didn’t recognize. None of it was fresh.
Riddick spotted Kyra leaning on the outer wall next to the beam he had tied her to not long ago. She had her head bowed and her arms and ankles crossed loosely. Her hair was loose and covering her face. She looked like she was sleeping but her breathing and posture gave away her wakefulness. There was something very different about her, something that tickled the back of his neck and set his hairs on end. She had the look of a predator lying in wait, deceptively relaxed and ready to spring.
Riddick approached her in complete silence, expecting her to sense him only when he was almost upon her. This time, she raised her head to meet his eyes after he had taken only a few steps. The look she gave him froze him in place. For a brief moment, there and gone before it fully registered, he couldn’t tell if he was looking at Kyra or Jack. He came a few steps closer and stopped, watching her warily, feeling as though he shouldn’t look away.
“Are you with me, Kyra,” he asked in a low, cautious tone.
She smiled at him and it was an animal smile, one he knew well but that he never thought he would see on anyone’s face but his own. Inside, his own animal gnashed its teeth. Kyra came to him with slow measured steps, moving to pass him but stopping when she was right beside him. She never took her eyes from him once and he couldn’t have honestly looked away from her in this moment if he’d tried.
“I will always be with you, Riddick,” she said.
Then she turned away and left the room, leaving him to stand there alone and watch her go. Riddick wracked his brain for an explanation as to what had just happened between them. Kyra had locked herself into this room and come out fourteen hours later as something different, something stronger and more dangerous than she had been before. Her smell had changed too. It smelled like Kyra and Jack, if that were possible. The two had always been separate in his mind but now it felt like they had somehow combined into this new person, this new Kyra. And even though she carried Jack’s smell there was no childishness in her now, at least none that he could see.
Instead of killing the child in her as Riddick had thought she needed to, this new Kyra, his Kyra, had done what was completely unexpected. She had embraced and consumed Jack. She had evolved once again into a new animal. He hummed low in his throat in appreciation.
Okay, now she’s ready.
After she had emerged from her cocoon, Riddick heard Kyra moving through the upper level of the ship. She ate, drank, used the lavatory, and cleansed herself. When she was done, she slept. He came to the cabin to look her over when he was certain she was out. Kyra slept like the dead, like someone who hadn’t really slept in a very long time. He sat down on the bunk opposite hers and watched her for about ten minutes. When he couldn’t stand it anymore, he got up and sat down again on her bunk next to her. Previously, she would have roused at the intrusion into her personal space and Riddick had a feeling that if he were anyone else, she would have. Instead, she shifted a bit in her sleep and rolled over so that her back was to him.
He saw the curve of her lower spine peeking out above her pants where her shirt had ridden up. He thought idly how easy it would be right now for him to slide a blade into her body, end her. Her exposure to him was an earnest statement of her trust and her complete lack of fear. Instead of a blade, he used his fingers. He traced the ridge of her spine up under her shirt and she arched like a cat under the touch, sighing in her sleep.
Riddick withdrew his hand after letting it linger between her shoulder blades for just a few seconds longer than he meant to. He wanted very much to see this new Kyra in action, see how she moved, how she felt. She was almost like a new toy and Riddick so loved playing with new toys, especially when they were capable of biting back. He had to leave her when he noticed the not-so-little problem in his pants, amused that she had caused such a reaction without a single bit of effort on her part.
After he had taken care of it, he returned to the pilot’s seat and dozed off, secure in the knowledge that Kyra’s problem had apparently solved itself. Now the real fun could begin. On the console, the ship counted down the last few hours to their next stop.
Chapter 37: Day 37, The Adder, Tuaric Station In High Orbit Around Gas Giant Nirobis
The Adder curved in on approach to what could only be described as the biggest spaceborne rust bucket Kyra had ever seen. It was a space station, that much was obvious, but it looked like it had been around since the birth of space travel and had mismatched sections attached that looked like they belonged to completely different stations. How the thing could function as a livable environment was beyond her. She imagined its ungraceful bulk ceasing its lazy gravitational spin and plummeting like some ancient broken beast into the methane clouds of the gas giant it orbited. The ridiculous image made her laugh under her breath.
Next to her, Riddick looked up from the console and raised an eyebrow. She didn’t elaborate, so he went back to what he was doing. He guided the ship in and coupled with one of the docking tubes that sprouted like bristles from one end of the station. There was a loud hiss from below as the airlock pressurized and Riddick hopped up. He had an odd little spring in his step. Kyra almost asked him about why he was in such a good mood but she let it go as they prepared to disembark.
“We’re not staying long,” Riddick told her.
He was in the process of fitting an alarming number of bladed weapons into various hidden nooks and crannies on his person. It never failed to amuse her when she saw how many he could carry unnoticed. With how few layers of clothing he wore, she had no idea where the hell he put them all.
“What’s the plan,” she asked, all business.
“We stay long enough to restock and get the ship modified. Then we move the fuck on,” he replied. “I don’t wanna hang around in this shit hole for longer than absolutely necessary.”
She certainly couldn’t deny that it was a shit hole.
“Anything you need me to do while we’re here?”
“Not this time,” he said as he popped the hatch open and braced himself against the doorway. “This time you stay with me and behave yourself like I already told you to. I don’t want to have to punish you again.”
She felt a surge of defiance at his patronizing tone and put her hands on her hips, staring him down. The effect was diminished a bit by the fact that he had is goggles on.
“Maybe I should get in trouble,” she quipped, “if it gets me another good lesson.”
He turned to face her directly, his features blank except for the working of a tiny jaw muscle. She was starting to think of that as his “Are you fucking kidding me?” expression. She didn’t back down, dropping her head a bit to glare from under her eyelids.
“I bet I can get out of anything you tie me up in, Riddick” she said, adding a confident smirk to it.
Riddick’s nostrils flared and the muscle in his jaw clenched again but instead of getting angry, he laughed.
“Strike one,” he said playfully and vaulted into the docking tube, his body twisting in the awkward gravity transition between the Adder’s internal generator and the space station.
Kyra quickly strapped her hunting knife to her thigh using the holster Riddick had given her. She was starting to get attached to the weapon. Whoever had owned it previously definitely had good taste in killing implements. With an awkward leap she followed Riddick out and fell into step just behind him as they moved through the spider web of tubes and large sections that comprised the big metal beast. The station was populated mostly by a random assortment of seedy looking people. It wasn’t particularly crowded. They passed individuals or small groups in the narrow passages every few minutes.
Every other corridor or room they passed had a burly looking man or sharp-eyed woman in non-descript clothing carrying a very descript stun weapon. Some leaned against the walls in apparent disinterest while others towered over anyone who passed and made no attempt to hide their scrutiny. Whenever they passed one by, be it man or woman, they would follow Kyra with their eyes. Whenever they raked her body with their looks she met the stare full-on with a challenging glare of her own. Half of the time they would grin or chuckle in response. The other half of the time they would touch their weapons as a subtle reminder. One man even wolf-called and grabbed his crotch, barking a laugh at her disgusted look.
Weirdly, none of them seemed to notice Riddick. He passed through their looks like an unseen ghost and people they met in the hallway shifted out of his way without looking up or giving any indication that they saw him. After a few more minutes of walking they passed what looked to be an empty and unused cross tube that met a dead-end. No one else was present in this stretch of corridor. Here, Riddick grabbed Kyra’s upper arm and steered her into the dead-end. He pressed her against the wall and caged her with his body.
Kyra could see immediately that he was angry. She inhaled deeply, waiting for him to speak and girding herself for an argument. He leaned in so close she could feel his breath on her face and when he spoke, the depth of his voice caused the words to vibrate through her.
“The fuck are you doing, Kyra,” he said, putting emphasis on each word.
She frowned but didn’t answer.
“What part of ‘we don’t need to get noticed’ did you not understand,” he asked.
“I’m not afraid of them,” she said defensively.
“It ain’t about that,” Riddick said. “If you wanted attention that much, you just had to ask.”
Kyra blinked, not getting where this had come from at first. Then it hit her. Holy fuck, he’s jealous, she thought. Her entire stance changed and she straightened, lifting her chin.
“I can handle any one of those assholes.”
“Like you handled me?”
Kyra’s anger flared at the reference he was making. Did he honestly think she’d use her sexuality to take one of those guys out? That she even needed to? She bit back at him.
“Didn’t work on you, did it,” she practically hissed.
Riddick brought a hand up and ran the back of his fingers along her cheek, dipping his head to the side of her neck to inhale deeply.
“What makes you think it didn’t,” he drawled.
Kyra’s heart was pounding heavily. She was sure Riddick could hear it clearly. Her body was responding to him so strongly that it hurt. It would have been so nice to let him continue but she wasn’t going to let him get away with his little jibe about her method of handling men. Kyra wasn’t some defenseless kid hanging off his coat tails anymore. She would obey him when it really mattered but she could damn well take care of herself and this wasn’t helping her prove it. He did have a point about laying low, though. Slowly, regretfully, as his lips brushed her neck, she brought a hand up and punched him in the stomach as hard as she could manage given the lack of room. It felt like she’d punched a brick wall.
Riddick’s head jerked up and he moved back, though she remained caged by his arms. His lips were slightly parted, a flash of teeth showing and a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. He shook his head slowly.
“Strike two,” he said.
He released her and moved back out into the corridor, checking each direction for any unwarranted company. Kyra shook herself hard as she followed him. After her little epiphany in the hold, Riddick hadn’t given her any indication that he wanted to pick up where they’d left off. She guessed that their little aside just now was a solid yes on his part, but if he thought she was going to make it easy for him he was utterly mistaken.
Back on track, Kyra seemed to have toned down her attitude a bit. She still drew eyes but she wasn’t handing out open invitations to violence anymore so the overall attention they got was minimal. Riddick was going to have to teach her the value of not being seen. It was great that she had suddenly grown a nice big figurative pair but they had important shit to do and this was not the place to start picking fights. Never mind that he felt the compulsion to rip the throats out of everyone that laid their filthy fucking eyes on her.
Mercifully, it wasn’t much longer before they got to where they were going. He took a side corridor that had a flickering neon sign hung haphazardly over it. It read Koslak. At the end, he pushed through a hanging curtain of grimy gold-painted beads and walked over to a skinny man with short spiky brown hair and beer-bottle glasses. He was hovering over a small wooden table with a bent cigarette in his mouth staring down at an unrolled film showing what looked like a schematic for some big lumbering space vessel. The man failed to see or hear him enter as usual, only noticing Riddick when he was right next to him and jumping comically in surprise, the cigarette dropping to the floor.
“Jesus,” the man snapped in heavily accented English, “where the cock did you come from?”
Riddick bent down and picked up the cigarette, examining it for a moment before handing it back to the man. If his Furyan blood allowed for any noticeable effects from chemicals like nicotine or alcohol he might have taken a drag but as it was, he had no use for mind or body altering substances. The man eyed it suspiciously before accepting it and placing it between his thin lips. His pale blue eyes flicked over Riddick’s shoulder, noticing Kyra with a nervous twitch.
“I hear you offer certain special modifications,” Riddick said, nodding at the schematic on the table for emphasis.
The man followed his look and took the cigarette out of his mouth to set it in an ashtray on the table.
“Depends on what you want,” he said. He wore a guarded expression. “And how much you can pay.”
Riddick saw the man give Kyra a meaningful glance. His hand twitched imperceptibly.
“Money ain’t an issue,” he growled warningly, snapping the man’s attention back to him. “I have a ship that needs to disappear.”
The man didn’t comprehend at first, then his brows lifted slightly and he stood a bit straighter.
“Specter package, eh? Not cheap,” he said as his entire persona changed from nervous little worm to confident businessman.
“I told you money ain’t an issue.”
“Cash or creds?”
“Creds,” Riddick replied and handed the man the second credit chip he’d taken from the Basilica.
The man clicked its tiny button, read the amount, and then took the chip over to a flat grey square sitting under a table lamp on the other side of the room. He passed the chip over it and it emitted a strange honking sound. The man smacked it and said something under his breath in a language Riddick wasn’t familiar with. He then passed the chip over it again and a green light flashed on in one corner of the square. He pocketed the chip and came back to Riddick.
“When and where,” he asked, now all business.
“Number eighty two. Now.”
“Now,” the man repeated in mild surprise. “I can send someone but it takes …” He squinted behind his thick glasses and screwed his face up in thought. “Couple of hours. Maybe half a day.”
“You can keep the change,” Riddick said simply.
“Give me twenty minutes,” the man said instantly and turned to pick up a small device that looked like a radio handset, waving his hand to shoo them out.
Riddick turned around with the intention of ushering Kyra out with him but found her gone. Somehow she had slipping out of the room unnoticed during the transaction. She’s getting way too good at that, he thought as he stepped out into the main corridor. Both directions were devoid of life and her scent had been whisked away by the station’s air filtration system. She could be in either direction. If she was in trouble again he might not be able to get to her before something irreparable happened if he chose the wrong way.
Riddick quieted his rising annoyance and extended his senses, listening for anything that might give him a heading. From back in the direction they had come and around a turn in the passageway he heard a muffled curse and felt a soft thump reverberate along the floor. Set on target, he turned and stalked toward the noise. He came up short just out of view as a man’s nasally voice carried to him.
“Come on, baby,” the voice squealed in placation, “I just wanted to cop a feel. You know how it is out here …”
He peeked around the turn and saw Kyra standing over a man with her back to him. She had the collar of her victim’s shirt twisted in her hand and he dangled with his upper body half way to the floor as she held her free hand raised, fist cocked menacingly. By the look of him, she had already broken his nose and there was a nasty swell on one of his cheeks. She clearly wasn’t in danger and she hadn’t drawn a blade yet so Riddick hung back to watch.
“I’m sorry, okay,” the man whimpered.
He was utterly pathetic despite his larger bulk and the closer Riddick looked, the more he thought he recognized his face. When he saw the stun rifle lying forgotten a few steps away he remembered. This was the little shit that had wolf-called earlier. Riddick took perverse pleasure in seeing what Kyra had done to him.
“There’s only one person who can get away with that,” she hissed down at him, “and it’s not you.”
With that, she threw him down and he scrambled out from under her to get to his feet and retrieve his rifle. Riddick had come around the corner now and was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, still unnoticed by Kyra. The man shot him a look as he retreated down the corridor.
“Watch out for that one, buddy,” he said as he disappeared.
Kyra spun around, probably expecting someone else that needed a good beating, and relaxed when she saw who it was. She had the good sense to look at least a little guilty. He shook his head slowly.
“I just can’t take you anywhere,” he teased.
“At least I didn’t kill him,” she offered hopefully.
He stood straight and came over to her, bending down so he could speak into her ear.
“Strike three,” he purred.
Kyra slumped almost imperceptibly as he moved past her. He felt her fall into step behind him. He had also picked up on what she told the man before he ran off but he gave her no indication of it. That would come back to bite her soon enough.
Half an hour later Riddick had finished with the restock of the Adder and they were back in the corridor near the entrance to the docking tube. The little man with the glasses was there holding a data pad that was connected to a point somewhere just inside the ship by a long cable. When Riddick came up to him he jumped again but his reaction the second time around was much less entertaining.
“I wish you would stop cocking doing that,” he grumbled, rubbing his chest for dramatic effect. “You’re late.”
“Had to pick up a few things,” Riddick told him and nodded toward the ship.
“All done,” the man said.
He yanked sharply on the cable and the end attached to the ship came free. He stuck the data pad under his arm and wound the cable around one hand. When he was done, he pocketed the spool and went back to his pad.
“I need a name,” he said, tapping a few times and then looking to Riddick.
“Call me Dick,” he offered, ignoring Kyra’s snort behind him.
“Dick,” the man repeated, not in the least bit fooled. “Fine, we skip it just this once for such a good customer.”
The man shoved the data pad into his waistband and headed back down the passage, calling back over his shoulder.
“Maybe next time you stop scaring the cock out of me. Eh, Dick?”
He didn’t stick around for a reply.
They boarded the ship and sealed the hatch, settling into the cockpit. Kyra was looking around curiously. He figured she was trying to find the modifications the little man had made. When she didn’t see anything different, she slumped back in apparent disappointment. It was funny to watch, especially knowing that the work had been done well out of sight. The kind of modifications he’d asked for were highly illegal and having them be in any way apparent completely defeated the purpose. At least now he could be certain that they wouldn’t be tracked or picked up on any scanners on the way to his chosen final destination.
Riddick separated from the station and pulled the ship away, bringing up coordinates on the view screen. The image that came up was of a planet that looked pretty much identical to every other standard dirt ball in the ‘verse. The name Pirin 1 popped up below the spinning image. Kyra was squinting at the coordinates.
“Riddick, isn’t that a bit …” she said and trailed off.
“Close to home,” he finished for her.
The planet was in an unpopulated system practically next door to the Helion system. Details on it came up on the view screen as he entered the coordinates in the ship’s navigation system. It was mostly rough rocky terrain with large stretches of dirt and had enough sparse life and water to sustain a breathable atmosphere. It had almost no valuable resources and, as with many potentially livable planets in the ‘verse, had at one point in time been settled by a single outpost. The outpost failed only because there was so little monetary value in the planet and the prospectors had packed up what they could carry and simply left, more in debt than when they arrived.
Riddick preferred to think that they all died of sheer boredom.
“Why there,” Kyra asked.
A good question and one that would be answered soon enough. It was a long five week journey and he almost envied Kyra for being able to sleep through it. He pointed to her cryosleep cuff as he finished programming the autopilot.
“You’ll see,” he said, grabbing his own.
Kyra didn’t press him for more information. She got herself hooked up and began to drift off as Riddick prepared himself for one hell of a long time to be tortured by her sleeping form. Maybe while he was bored he could come up with a good artful punishment for her. She definitely had it coming. He lounged back in his chair and set his devious mind to work.
Chapter 38: Day 72, The Adder, Orbit Around Pirin 1
Kyra yawned and arched her back as she came out of cryosleep to the sound of the ship’s arrival notification. Riddick was already at the controls, steering the Adder toward the ugly brown planet filling the view screen. She removed her cuff and stretched languidly, feeling Riddick’s eyes on her through his goggles and enjoying every second of it. As the vessel descended through the atmosphere she saw them pass low over the shell of a settler outpost.
Those things are everywhere, she thought with amusement. There really wasn’t a planet anywhere in reasonable travel range that prospectors hadn’t tried to tame at least once. The ship skimmed lower and slowed on approach to a large rocky outcropping near a big cave with a low hanging ledge that mostly hid its mouth. There was just barely enough clearance for Riddick to slide the ship in if he approached from the side. He brought the vessel in and set down in the center of the cavernous space within.
While he went about shutting things down, Kyra gathered her meager belongings from the cabin and made use of the facilities one last time. She chugged a cup of water and stuck a protein ration in her mouth as she headed down to the hold. The hatch opened and she was walking down the ramp before it had even finished extending. The cave around her was much bigger inside than it looked and she saw that the walls and high arched ceiling were lined with wide plates of a tan material that looked a bit like plastic. The floor had been smoothed over to be flat and even. This cave had clearly felt the touch of humans.
Heading to the mouth of the cave, Kyra looked out over the bleak landscape and breathed deeply. So this is home, she thought, for now. Smells like dirt. They had come down on the day side and the sun was slowly working its way across the sky at a low angle. It was about midday based on where it was hovering. Looking higher up, Kyra thought she could see the points of light that were the Helion system, bright enough to be visible in daytime. She felt her heart constrict painfully as she thought of Imam and wondered how his family was doing without him.
Off toward sunset, the dead outpost was a tiny break on the horizon that she could barely make out. There didn’t appear to be any other buildings in the area. She was confused as to what they were going to do here. She couldn’t imagine them living in this empty cave or camping out on that unforgiving terrain for however long Riddick decided to hide out here. She spun around to look for him and ran smack into his chest. She nearly jumped out of her skin and danced back, gasping.
“How long were you …” she trailed off.
“Gonna have to up your game, Kyra,” he said and left the cave to head for the rocky outcropping.
She thought she’d gotten better at sensing his presence the more she was around him. Either he had been holding back on her or her senses had dulled during her long sleep on the way here. Either way, she agreed with him. She would have to start upping her game if she was going to stay sharp around him. Kyra followed him out and along a stretch of packed dirt that wound into the cluster of boulders near the cave. He rounded one, turned and reached out to something she couldn’t see, and then seemed to disappear behind it. When she came around to where he’d been she saw there was a hidden door that had swung inward to reveal a dusty passage. It fell away into deep shadow, descending by a slight degree.
Kyra entered it and felt her way along until the passage leveled out and her hand found a closed door on her right. Trying the handle revealed that it was locked so she left it and moved ahead. She came to a right turn in the passageway and when she rounded it she saw a beam of light at the end of the remaining length of passageway streaming down from a round hole high up on the right wall. There was just enough light for Kyra to see three more closed doors in this hall, one more on her right and two on her left. The end of the passageway opened into a space that looked like a circular stairwell leading down.
Kyra tried the handles on the three doors and found them locked as well. When she came to the stairwell she paused at the top and listened. She could hear what she thought was the crank of a tool and the clatter of something metal being dropped. A few moments later, the hum of machinery floated up the stairs and a light in the passageway behind her flickered sluggishly to life. Riddick came up the stairs dusting his hands off and squeezed past her as he slid his goggles back on.
He walked over to the first of the two doors that were now on the right and turned the handle, opening it easily and entering the room beyond. Kyra followed him and looked at the handle as if it had betrayed her.
“There’s a trick to it,” Riddick called back to her while he was rummaging through a cabinet on the wall.
He didn’t elaborate further. Great, something else I have to figure out. This room was a decently sized bathroom with a modestly sized open shower stall, a simple toilet, and a wide shallow sink. The cabinet Riddick was raiding sat on the opposite wall and there was another small medicine cabinet with a mirror hanging over the sink. When he was satisfied with whatever he was doing, Riddick brushed past her again and moved on to the adjacent door.
Kyra followed him and watched his hand closely this time but when he turned the handle it didn’t look like he’d done anything special to it. She knew he was making a game out of this but she had to figure the trick out. This second room was the same size as the bathroom and proved to be a bedroom with only one large simple bed sitting against the left wall, a dresser on the right, and a table and chair against the far wall. Riddick poked around in this room as well, noticing the look Kyra was giving the bed.
“You’re sleeping there,” he said as he pointed at it.
“Where are you sleeping,” she asked.
The question came out more teasingly than she intended. Riddick seemed to think about it for a minute. Then he moved past her into the hall.
“Not sure yet,” he said, tossing her teasing tone back at her.
At the single door on the other side of the hall, Kyra watched his hand once again. He slowed the motion down by a fraction and she thought she saw a subtle movement that she hadn’t caught before but it was still too fast for her to make out. Inside this room was an odd collection of training and fitness equipment. The room itself was about twice as large as the others and there were two more round holes high on the far wall letting light in. Riddick didn’t stay in this room for long. He simply gave it a visual sweep and left.
Once again, Kyra followed him as he came to the final door back around the bend in the passageway. He stopped in front of it and beckoned her to him. Kyra stepped up and he moved her to stand in front of him facing the door. He took her hand and placed it on the round handle, moving her thumb and forefinger to find two tiny pins opposite each other just on the other side of the swell.
“Here,” he said as he pressed his forefinger down over hers gently, “and here.”
He pressed her thumb down in the same manner and when the pins were both depressed, she felt something give and the handle turned freely. She opened the final door and Riddick guided her inside. This room was as large as the previous room and she could see that it was a combination kitchen and mess. It would have felt spacious except that there was a large cylindrical machine covered in pipes taking up a quarter of the available space in the far left corner. It seemed to protrude up from the floor and Kyra imagined that the rest of it was somewhere down below with whatever machinery Riddick had been working on. Over the wide metal sink in the kitchen section, another hole allowed light to flood in from outside.
Here, Riddick went about rummaging again and Kyra understood that he was taking stock of what was already available. She left him to it and walked over to the small table near the machine, sitting on one of the two low metal benches to either side of it.
“Did you build all of this,” Kyra asked him.
“No,” he replied, “It’s an old smuggling hideout. Been here for about twenty years. The original owners used it for five before they got themselves shot down somewhere in another system. Or so I was told.”
“It doesn’t look that old,” she commented as she looked around.
“I fixed it up a while back. Picked up a few things from that old settlement you saw when we came in. They had a perfectly good water filtration unit over there sitting around collecting dust. Filter’s good for a couple years on a ten man load. One or two people,” he shrugged, “should be good for five or six.”
“And the power?”
“Solar. Old as shit but it gets the job done. That was here already.”
So the big piped machine in the corner must be the filtration unit. She couldn’t even begin to imagine how he’d moved something that big and complicated from the settlement so far away and managed to get it up and running here, much less how he’d renovated the place to make it fit. Riddick finished his rummaging and walked over to the machine in question, checking its pipes and turning a few handles to open water flow. The machine produced a faint whoosh when he turned a large red handle near the floor and she heard a churning sound pick up from somewhere below. Was there anything this man didn’t know how to do? Finally satisfied, Riddick walked to the door and stopped there to address her.
“Gonna off load the ship and do some hunting,” he said, his goggled face turned in her direction. “Feel free to settle in. First night’s free.”
What the hell is that supposed to mean, she thought with a huff after he disappeared. When he was gone, she suddenly began to feel very lonely. They had been in each other’s immediate company for almost the entire time since he’d taken her off of IG-4. She had grown used to his formidable presence, always somewhere nearby, looming like a shadow. With Riddick gone, she felt strangely naked. It hasn’t even been all that long, she reminded herself. Outside of cryosleep time it had been maybe a month, if that.
With a small sigh Kyra got up and decided to do a bit of her own exploration. She wandered in and out of the rooms, familiarizing herself with them. She went down the stairs to the machine room below and found it completely dark. There was no voice activation for the lights so she fumbled around on the wall near the stairs until she found a switch. When lit, she could see that the room stretched out for the entire combined length of the rooms above, for about half the combined width, and aside from two big objects it was empty.
Planted along the right side was a massive, archaic monstrosity of a generator spanning the length of the room. One panel along its lumbering shape was laid open and there were a few tools on the floor nearby. Cables rose from a few points along the top of it and disappeared into the ceiling, probably running to a set a solar panels above. On the other side of the room, about half way down and taking up the rest of the wall in that direction, sat the bowels of the water filtration unit. She could see the big white tank at its base slowly filling with liquid. There were pipes running along the ceiling stemming from it that presumably led to and from the mess and the bathroom. With the machines running, the entire room pulsed with the thrum of their combined noise. It wasn’t loud in here but the low sound resonated through her and its pulse beat against her like a giant heart.
Kyra left the machine room, turning off the light, and came back upstairs to sit on the single bed. It was actually big enough for two people if they didn’t mind being in intimate proximity. Kyra wondered if Riddick would take her up on an offer to share it. The idea of sleeping next to him, against him, made her blood heat. By his reply earlier, he hadn’t said for sure whether or not he intended to do just that. Either he was toying with her again or he was giving her an out if she chose to take it. She thought it might be a little of both. She half hoped that he would try to just do it like he was entitled to it so she could put him in his place. Riddick had a way of just taking what he wanted, especially from those he had no respect for. So far he hadn’t done that with her and she liked to think that meant he had at least a little respect for her.
Come to think of it, now that they were here, what did he plan to do with her? This wasn’t exactly a honeymoon suite and she could finally say with confidence that he wasn’t going to just drop her somewhere and vanish into the night. So what did he want from her? She spread out on the bed, staring at the blank ceiling with an arm behind her head and a hand resting on her stomach.
He had expressed some interest in teaching her things so maybe he intended to train her. It made sense considering her desire to stick with him. He had walked some very dark paths alone and the darkness there was an advantage for him, not a vulnerability. Kyra would never have his eyes, she knew that now, so she could never be as comfortable with the dark as he was. But she could have him. She did have him. If he was there, she wouldn’t need to see in the dark. And if she could learn all of his tricks and techniques, become as strong as he was, she could hunt with him despite her disadvantage.
It was a pleasant thought and she was fully ready to take on whatever he threw at her. No more fear, no more uncertainty. She kicked off her boots, rolled over so that her back was to the door and closed her eyes. She drifted off to sleep with thoughts of him bouncing around in her skull.
It was long past sunset when Riddick returned to the roost with his kill. The lights were beginning to flicker as the generator’s battery started to run out of juice. He would have to make a few adjustments to it soon and probably swap out a few parts. For now he simply turned all the lights off and relied on his night vision to move around. Having the lights on like this was unpleasant for him. The last time he had been here he’d just left them off. It put a much lighter load on the old beast in the basement. Maybe he should make that a requirement from now on and tell his little roommate to just deal with it.
He found Kyra curled up on the bed. By the smell of it, she’d been exploring the place, familiarizing herself with it. That was good. She was picking up habits that would be of use. While he’d been gone, Riddick had mulled over how to proceed from here with her. He knew he wanted to strengthen her, train her, teach her as many tricks as he could. And of course, she still had payment coming for her lack of restraint on the space station. He would be seeing to that tomorrow.
However, there was something he’d come to understand during their time together that he needed to address before everything else. Whether she cared to admit it or not Kyra was still a creature of light. She still relied on it to guide her hand. Riddick knew some of that couldn’t be helped. After all, she didn’t have his night vision. But there were other ways to “see” in total darkness. She had other senses she could hone to help her with that and she didn’t need to have some kind of special blood in her to do it. Just good ol’ fashioned time and effort.
He began to formulate a plan. When he was finished, he considered climbing into the bed with her. In the end, he decided not to. If things went the way he wanted them to, he’d be in that bed soon enough.
Chapter 39: Day 73, Smuggler Hideout, Pirin 1
The lingering smell of cooked meat drew Kyra back to the world. She swung out of bed, drawn by the rumble of her stomach. After a quick visit to the bathroom she padded barefoot to the mess and found it empty. The angle of the beam of light coming in over the sink hinted that it was late morning. She had slept in quite a bit and felt a small pang of guilt about it. Riddick had let her sleep in too, which was a bit weird. On the metal table sat a plate of food. She came to it curiously. It held a chunk of some variety of reddish meat, still steaming with residual warmth, nestled atop a small pile of stringy looking greens. She didn’t recognize any of it but the smell of the meat made her mouth water.
She hunkered down and dug in as only the truly starving could. The meat was delicious, if a bit salty, and the greens were mostly bitter with a slight citrus tang. All of it was gone in a matter of minutes. It was a bit more than she usually ate but after living on the dry, uniform ration fare she was used to during space travel she didn’t care. This was downright fucking palatial. When she was sated, she did what all disciplined adults should do and put her dish away. Because she was responsible. Not at all because she didn’t want to give Riddick another excuse to administer some kind of punishment.
Come to think of it, where was Riddick? The food he’d left for her hadn’t been there for long so he must be slinking around somewhere. Or perhaps he’d gone out again. Kyra wandered through the other rooms in her search but couldn’t locate him. Curiously, the training room had been cleared so that there was a sizable empty space in the center. All of the equipment had been stacked or pushed against the walls and there was a black strap dangling from a hook in the center of the ceiling.
Back in the hall, a metal clang echoed up the stairwell nearby and the lights flickered overhead. She followed the sound to see her target crouching in the dark as he worked at something inside the open panel on the generator. Without looking at her, Riddick slid his goggles down over his eyes as she reached for the light switch.
Now that she could see what he was doing, she saw him practically elbow deep in the guts of the ancient machine. He was turning something inside vigorously, producing a series of ratcheting clanks. She came to his side and watched him work with interest. Riddick gave the impression that he was familiar with this machine and its guts. He tinkered with it in a few more places and then set the tool he was using down to close the panel. Then he stood and dusted his hands off, turning to her.
“Did you eat,” he asked.
“All of it?”
“Yeah,” she said a bit more sharply. “Why?”
“Because from now on you’re gonna need it,” he replied with complete serenity.
Kyra put her hands on her hips and studied him.
“What did you have in mind,” she asked tentatively.
Riddick motioned to the generator.
“After today, we stop using lights,” he said. Kyra frowned. “If you’re gonna start following me around so much, you need to get real familiar with the dark.”
Kyra shifted and folded her arms across her chest.
“I am,” she said defensively.
“Not like me.”
“Riddick, you know I don’t have-“
“You don’t need ‘em,” he said, cutting her off. “And I’m gonna show you how. That lesson starts tomorrow. Besides, if this thing breaks,” another nod to the generator, “and I’m not around to fix it, you get no water. And it’s on you to make it work.”
He moved past her and headed for the stairs. The hairs on the back of Kyra’s neck were standing on end.
“But first,” he continued as he walked, expecting her to follow, “we gotta have a little discussion about something. You wanted another lesson so bad back on that station, you’re gonna get one.”
Oh shit. Kyra followed.
Riddick led Kyra back upstairs and into the training room. There he pointed to a place in the center. She hesitated for a few seconds and then stood in it. Kyra’s eyes followed him as he collected a set of chained cuffs from one corner and brought them over to her. From the look on her face, Kyra recognized them. Good, that was what he’d been hoping to see. He stood behind her and began attached the cuffs to the strap hanging from the ceiling.
“I already know how to get out of those, Riddick,” she said with a slight hint of smugness.
“This lesson ain’t about how to escape,” he told her as he brought her wrists up over her head and slotted them into the cuffs.
Her arms hung loosely above her now, elbows slightly bent. Once she was secure, he came around to stand in front of her. If she was turned on at all by this little setup she didn’t show it. He didn’t really expect it with how the last punishment had gone but this one was going to go much differently than how she was probably expecting.
“You got a serious problem with holding back, Kyra,” he said, enjoying the flare of anger in her eyes. “You like to bite,” he continued with a lewd grin. “Personally, I don’t mind a woman that bites back. But when we have more important things to do, it causes problems. Problems we don’t need.”
She was practically fuming now but she was paying attention. He could tell she was processing his words and comprehending his point, though she didn’t like it.
“I get that you got things to prove.” He saw her flinch slightly at that. “But there’s a time and place for that and you need to learn when that’s gotta be. And in case you hadn’t figured it out,” he continued mercilessly, “it ain’t in the middle of a space station crawling with fucking scumbags and black market militia.”
Kyra dropped her eyes to the floor and worked her jaw, holding back her retort.
“So here’s how this is gonna go,” he said as he pulled a contraption out of his pocket that looked a bit like a tuning fork. Her eyes locked on it but instead of a cold spike of fear, she raised an eyebrow curiously. Interesting.
“You have ten minutes to break out of those chains.”
He pressed a small button on the device in his hand and there was a quick pop of electricity across the twin tips. Kyra paled.
“And I’m gonna distract the fuck out of you while you do it,” he said as he smiled broadly, teeth flashing. “You lose control, we start again. You fail to get out in time, we start again. We do this until you show me that you can stay focused long enough to get the job done.”
Kyra had recovered enough to steady herself in the face of her new challenge, her jaw set.
“We’ll worry about what happens after that later,” he added. “You ready?”
Kyra nodded without hesitation so Riddick pulled a simple stopwatch out of his pocket and clicked a button on the side. Now the fun could begin. She closed her eyes and began to work on the cuffs. This particular model had a tiny pin in a hinge that, with enough time and patience, could be worked loose and used to pick the lock. But only if you knew where it was and had a certain amount of flexibility to reach it. Riddick watched her find it with her fingers and begin to pick at it. His personal record was a little over four minutes.
He approached her and dipped his head to drink in her scent. She was so concentrated that she didn’t react. Stretched out like this, her shirt had ridden up and revealed a few inches of skin above her waist. Riddick lifted his little device and chose a spot just to the side of her exposed navel. This particular device was completely harmless and was actually used to test electrical flow across nodes on the generator down below. It wouldn’t cause any damage but it would definitely hurt. He gave her a zap.
Kyra jerked back and fumbled, her hands clenching. She gritted her teeth and glared angrily at him but held back the insult burning in her eyes. Then she exhaled and closed her eyes again, her fingers returning to the pin. Riddick chose a new spot, just below an armpit, and jolted her again. She tensed up and arched her back, emitting a strangled cry as she lost her hold, but kept her eyes closed this time. She shook her head once and found the pin once more. She was beginning to adjust, beginning to anticipate his attacks, which was what he’d planned for. He waited a few minutes longer this time and aimed his third shock at her lower back, fourth lumbar down and just to the left of her spine. By now she had worked the pin almost all the way out and when he shocked her, the muscle spasm in her hands knocked the pin free and sent it to floor. Kyra watched it fall well out of reach and slumped in defeat.
“Fail,” he said and reset the stopwatch.
Riddick knew he was basically cheating. Even he would have had a nearly impossible job of freeing himself with electricity locking up his muscles. He had done this because he wanted Kyra to start off with a bit of humility. She was starting to become over confident and while that was fine if you were as skilled as someone like him, it could easily get any lesser man or woman killed. She needed to go into this without the assumption that she knew how it was going to play out. Knowing how it was going to play out came after you were in it and could see all the factors involved.
He picked up the pin and fit it back into its place. He then clicked the stopwatch again to restart the timer. Kyra began working on the pin immediately, eyes closed yet again. While he watched her, Riddick set his torture implement down and moved on to his true intended tactic. This time Riddick moved to stand behind her and came close enough so that she could feel his body heat. She froze for a few seconds before she regained her concentration. He then brought a hand around and slid the tips of his fingers under the waistband of her pants, laying his palm across her stomach.
Kyra froze again and drew a deep breath, turning her head to stare back over her shoulder at him with a questioning look. He tilted his goggled head minutely and she gritted her teeth, returning to her work. When she had worked the pin half way out he slid his hand around her hip and behind, sliding his palm down to rest over one ass cheek. Kyra gasped and raised herself up on her toes but kept her hands working. Okay, he thought, time to kick it up a notch.
“So who is it,” he asked her, speaking so closely to her ear that his lips brushed the shell.
Kyra stopped what she was doing long enough to process what he’d said.
“Who is what,” she asked almost dismissively, continuing to fiddle with the pin. It was almost out again.
“The one guy you’d let get away with this,” he replied as he squeezed her flesh gently.
Kyra shuddered at the touch, a soft hiss of breath escaping through clenched teeth. The comprehension of what he was referring to took a minute to come to her.
“Who the fuck do you think it is, Riddick,” she threw over her shoulder, attempting to hide the note of embarrassment in her voice.
Riddick dragged his hand up her back, pressing a thumb along the curve of her spine under the back of her shirt. She arched at his touch, nearly losing her focus. The scent of her arousal wafted in the air, teasing him almost as much as he was teasing her. He shifted around to stand in front of her. Kyra’s hands twisted above her, now working the lock with the freed pin, and her eyes were closed again. He didn’t like that.
He drew in close, looming over her, and placed his hands on either side of her torso. His thumbs dragged along the side of her clothed breasts as he slid his hands down her sides. When they reached the exposed skin just above her hips he stopped and pressed his thumbs down under her waistband again, pushing them just slightly into the hollow of her hip bones. Kyra opened her eyes finally and looked him in his goggled face. The spitfire was burning there, issuing an unspoken challenge. He was about to escalate again in response when the stopwatch in his pocket beeped.
“Fail,” he said, removing his hands.
“Is it,” Kyra asked, a tiny smile curving her lips.
Riddick looked up to see her hands wrapped around the black strap. The cuffs hung loose, attached to nothing. He had a fraction of a second to react as Kyra used the strap to raise herself up and swing her knee at his chin. He danced back a few paces and dodged it. Kyra used her momentum to follow through the spin and kick out at him with her other leg. This time he caught it and held her in place.
Kyra stood balanced on one leg, holding herself up by the strap, while Riddick held her calf in his hand. She made no move to free herself from his grip. Riddick expected to see anger at the way he had distracted her moments before but she only appeared to be coiled and focused, ready to take another swing. He was honestly impressed at how she’d handled the lesson. Not only had she held back her emotions and kept her concentration enough to free herself, she had also played into his ministrations enough to distract him and shoot back.
“Good girl,” he purred and slapped his free hand against her raised thigh once.
He released her leg and she bounced back a bit, releasing the strap and rubbing her wrists. She wore an absurdly proud expression in light of her victory and she practically vibrated with residual adrenaline. Riddick supposed this hadn’t ended up being true punishment in the end but it had given him another level of respect for what Kyra could do. It surprised him that she had risen to the occasion so well and he very much liked this kind of surprise. She was growing more formidable with each new lesson and if she kept up this pace, she’d be ruling the dark with him in a matter of months.
“What’s next,” Kyra asked him eagerly.
“What, you like being tied up?”
“Show me something I haven’t seen before,” she tossed back, feeding him the same line he’d given her during their little spar in the hold.
Riddick threw back his head and laughed.
“Guess you need to work off some of that steam,” he said. “Come on.”
Riddick left the room with Kyra buzzing after him. He stopped at the kitchen to grab two water pouches he had filled earlier for just this moment while Kyra took a detour at the bedroom to put her boots on. When she arrived a moment later, he handed one pouch to Kyra and the other he strapped to himself. They were designed to be low profile and easy access for use during periods of intense physical labor. Kyra looked at her pouch curiously and then put it on, following him into the daylight of the rocky ground outside.
“What are we doing out here,” she asked.
“Running,” he said simply and pointed in a general direction.
“Running,” she repeated with disappointment. “How far?”
“Depends,” Riddick replied thoughtfully. “We start with ten kilometers and see where we’re at.”
Kyra raised her eyebrows at him. He knew it wouldn’t be horribly grueling for her. After all, they’d managed a thirty kilometer run across far more difficult terrain than this when they were escaping the prison on Crematoria. It was just painfully obvious that she had been expecting something a bit more entertaining. Riddick gave her no further chances to speak, taking off at a full run as if he intended this to be a race. Behind him, Kyra sighed in defeat and gave chase.
Kyra collapsed onto the bed like a limp sack of meat. She was dirty, sweaty, and hurt all over. After their run - which had ended up being closer to fifteen kilometers - Riddick had put her through a rigorous strength training routine. The run had managed to kill the buzz from her earlier victory and the strength training had been brutally tiring. She wasn’t a shrimp by any means but it almost seemed like he expected her to grow muscles as big as his and that just wasn’t physically possible for her.
She tried to imagine herself with arms the size of Riddick’s and began to laugh at the utterly ridiculous picture in her head. She laughed for a good five minutes, burying her face into the mattress to muffle the noise. Riddick probably thought she was losing her mind. Maybe she really would if he kept driving her the way he had today. Although, if she had more lessons like her little punishment that morning she might be okay with it.
She couldn’t believe that she’d actually been able to do it on the second try. The first try was pretty much impossible. She wondered if even Riddick would have been able to do it with that kind of distraction. The second try, however, had almost broken her. The things he had done to distract her had taken monumental effort to ignore. She had honestly surprised the hell out of herself with the way she had managed to narrow her mind and get the chains off. It helped that she was already aware of how to work the restraints. But Riddick’s hands on her body had nearly driven her mad.
And she had liked it. All of it. She had wanted more. Until the idea to throw the match and allow herself to lose on purpose had popped into her head. That was when it changed. Her animal side, the side that refused to lose no matter who or what she was up against, had taken the reins. It had driven her to lay low, draw Riddick in, and play defeat. It had lashed out at him in defiance when he was within range of her teeth, assuming she was no longer a threat. And she hadn’t lost control this time. She had been aware and calculating the entire time, striking at him even as she yearned to feel him again.
Kyra hadn’t let her animal side loose since it had taken hold of her at Waystation Fios. Not even when she had dealt with that loser on the space station. Maybe it hadn’t felt the bastard was worth it. Now, when it had freed itself Kyra could feel the change in it. No longer did she fade away into her own mind as horrible memories flooded her vision. No longer was she fed by fear and rage. Now, she was honed and clear headed, her target the only focus of her killing intent. It was an incredibly reassuring revelation but it hadn’t been the best part.
The best part had been that, during the entire event, not once had she felt the fear that previously would come over her whenever she was in intimate contact with another person. Not once had she frozen up and reverted to a frightened child or been taken by a blind frenzy of slaughter. And this was with the single most dangerous killer in the entire ‘verse practically on top of her. A man who could snap her neck with one hand or kill her with the barest flick of a blade. She had been worried about whether that fear would rear its ugly head again and knowing that it was gone for good felt glorious. More liberating than her escape from any prison had ever been.
Kyra yawned impossibly wide behind her hand. It was just turning over into evening and her stomach gave her a grumbling reminder that she hadn’t eaten since that morning. She toyed with the idea of getting up to find something to eat but she was far too tired to work up the motivation. She rolled over and promised her stomach that she would pay it off in the morning, drifting away into the blissful rest of the weary.
Chapter 40: Day 74, Smuggler Hideout, Pirin 1
The bedroom door was open when Kyra woke up the following morning. She sat up and instantly detected a change in the environment. The lights were off. Not just in here, but in the hall as well. Out there, a small amount of light streamed in from the hole in the wall and allowed her to see well enough to avoid tripping over things. When she stood, her foot nudged something on the floor and a slosh of cool water spilled over her toes.
Looking down, she found a cup of water and one of the protein rations from the ship. The ration had the words “Eat me” scrawled on the foil wrapping. She was suddenly reminded that she had skipped dinner and so she picked it up and did exactly as it wished, chasing it with a long gulp from the cup. She stretched and tested her muscles, relieved to find that she was only a little sore. She still felt dirty, though, and she needed to address that before doing anything else.
She pulled a small towel out of the dresser in the room and made her way barefoot to the bathroom. In it, there was a single large candle burning on the edge of the sink. The room would have otherwise been completely dark with the door closed. She flicked the light switch on one of the walls experimentally but it did nothing.
I guess he was serious about the ‘no lights’ thing, she thought as she undressed and got into the shower. She took her time under the heavy spray, enjoying the heat as long as she could without feeling wasteful and washing away the filth and sweat of yesterday. She was almost finished when she heard the door open.
Kyra froze. The shower was an open design segregated from the rest of the bathroom by a low wall that came up to her collarbone. There was a horizontal pole over the entrance to it with a few metal rings that might once have been attached to a curtain but there was otherwise nothing to block the view on that side if someone decided to just walk right on over. She turned her head and watched Riddick stroll in like he owned the place and plant himself in front of the sink.
He wasn’t wearing his goggles anymore so Kyra was certain that he hadn’t once looked at her or even acknowledge her presence but there was no way he wasn’t aware that she was there. As she stared at him incredulously he scrubbed a hand across his chin and over his head thoughtfully and then began pulling his shaving equipment out of the cabinet behind him.
Kyra had no idea what the hell to do about this. Riddick would have heard the shower running and known she was in it. He was in here either because he didn’t care or because she did. She suspected it was more the latter. She had her towel but it wasn’t much bigger than a washcloth. She could wrap it around her waist or her chest but not both. As she considered her options Riddick turned his head to her, eyes trained only on her face.
“Wasting water,” he said simply and went back to his shaving.
Kyra huffed silently, understanding the game. Okay Riddick, she thought, you really want to see what I’m going to do when you put me on this kind of spot? You’re on. This was another test, another taunt to see how she would react and if he could use that to get a rise out of her, make her lose her temper again. The way she saw it, she had three options. First, she could give him what he wanted and get angry. Yell at him and tell him to get the hell out until she was finished. Second, she could take the Jack route and cower under her towel in embarrassment, retreating with her tail between her legs. Third, she could throw it right back in his face. She liked that option best.
Kyra shut the water off and grabbed her towel, drying herself off. Instead of wrapping it around part of her body, she slung it around her shoulders as she stepped out of the stall. She didn’t look at Riddick but she felt his eyes snap to her immediately and she heard the rasp of metal against his skin cease. With complete confidence and lack of shame she waltzed right past him, feeling his eyes trail her like a hungry predator. She did her best not to walk too quickly on the way out. As she crossed the threshold to the hall his voice followed her out.
“Machine room, ten minutes.”
She smiled at yet another tiny victory as she returned to the bedroom and began to dress. Ten minutes later she was feeling her way down the stairs. Surprisingly, the light was on down here and Riddick was absent. She stepped a few paces inside and looked around. The generator was humming at a slightly higher pitch and the panel that was open before was closed now, no tools lying on the floor nearby. She turned to go back upstairs and look for the missing man and found him standing behind her, goggles on once again and freshly shaven.
Jesus, he must be wearing his extra stealthy pants today, she thought. Riddick opened his mouth to say something but she spoke first.
“Gonna tell me how this is going to go now,” she sassed, crossing her arms.
She caught the muscle spasm in his jaw.
“Yeah,” he said, “you’re gonna learn how to see in the dark.”
With no more explanation than that, he reached out and flipped the light off. Kyra was immediately plunged into complete darkness. She waited for Riddick’s eyeshine to tell her where he was but no matter where she looked, she couldn’t see it. After the third time she’d spun around searching for him she was thoroughly lost, having no reference point to anchor her position in the room.
“Riddick,” she called but got no answer.
She wasn’t afraid so much as confused. If he had left her down here to fumble around by herself for a few hours it wasn’t going to be a very good learning experience. She’d just bang her knees and toes up and maybe smack her head against a pipe or two. She was starting to get annoyed.
“Riddick, this isn’t funny,” she said, making no attempt to hide that annoyance. “I thought you wanted to teach me something.”
“I do,” he said from right behind her.
She spun around and locked onto his eyes, shining just in front of her.
“What am I supposed to learn here,” she asked, “how to stub my toe?”
“Might be some of that, yeah,” he replied playfully.
“Riddick …” she warned.
He sighed when it was clear she wasn’t up for playing along and got down to business.
“Today, you learn how to stop seeing and how to start feeling.”
The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She remembered the way he had touched her yesterday and felt her nipples go hard. His eyes flicked downward for a second. Of course he would notice that.
“I’ll take you to the door,” he said and she felt him turn her around to face a specific direction, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Start there. Picture the room in your head. Then count steps to the generator. You remember the panel?”
She nodded, feeling a bit silly as he walked her to a point several steps away and then stopped her. He turned her around again so that she was facing back into the room and released her. When she looked over to where he had last been standing, he was gone. After a few seconds, she did her best to draw up the image of the room in her head and lay it out over the blackness in front of her. She rolled her shoulders to ready herself and began to follow his instructions.
As she moved, she started to pick up on minute details around her that she hadn’t caught before. Without her vision Kyra’s other senses were starting to sharpen and extend, trying to compensate. The sound of the generator to her right getting louder as she approached. The faint trickle of water from the filtration tank on the left. She counted her steps and on the eighth she felt her foot smack painfully into the base of the generator. She winced and backed up a step to reach out with her hand and feel for the metal surface. When her hand met only air, she lowered herself into a crouch and felt her fingers touch it finally.
She moved her hand along the surface at what she thought was the height of the panel, sweeping first right and then left. She was able to find it by the raised edge and shifted to center herself in front of it. Tracing it, she found the latch that would open it but it wouldn’t turn. Did this one have another trick to it? The latch was small and simple and she couldn’t feel any tiny buttons or switches on it.
After a few more failed attempts, Riddick was crouching down behind her. His big frame engulfed her as he reached over and put his hand on hers, guiding her fingers to slide the latch laterally across the surface. Kyra barely registered the movement, distracted by his closeness and the rough texture of his fingers. And God, his smell. Leather, metal, male sweat, whatever substance he had used to shave earlier, and a musk that was distinctly his. It sank down into her skin and churned in her belly.
“Focus, Kyra,” he said into her ear.
Riddick left her again and she could almost have cried for the lack of him. The bastard knew what he was doing to her and she didn’t think for a second that he would stop just to keep her on track. Kyra let the panel drop and felt around inside, learning the shape and location of what she thought were important knobs or gears or levers. When she was confident that she could paint the picture in her mind again she closed the panel and stood.
Another look around failed to show her where Riddick had gone. She referred to the image of the room in her head and turned to face away from the generator, taking a few steps into what she thought was the center of the room. There she stopped and tried to extend her other senses further, listening to any small noise of feeling for any faint air movement that would give away Riddick’s location.
The longer she stood like that, the more she began to feel his eyes on her. She thought she could detect his smell getting stronger and turned her head slightly, picking up a tiny swish of cloth. There was a subtle shift of air behind and to her left. With a quick snap she brought her elbow up and swung it back at where she thought he was. It was met by the palm of his hand. She hadn’t expected to actually land a blow, she had simply wanted him to reveal himself if she had been correct in her sightless observations.
With a low growl in his throat, Riddick used her arm to spin her around to face him. She opened her eyes again and saw his own flashing down at her.
“Wasn’t planning to start the sparring lessons just yet,” he said, “but if you insist …”
Kyra could hear his grin and suddenly had the compulsion to wipe it off his face. She returned the grin, knowing he would see it, and took two steps back. Judging by her mental map, she should have about four feet of breathing room on all sides of her with the wall opposite the generator somewhere behind her. She kept her eyes on Riddick and prepared herself to strike.
Riddick circled her this time and she was sure he was doing it to make her get disoriented but instead of turning to keep face with him she kept her heading with her body and followed him with her senses and her eyes. He was letting her take the first shot, choosing to react to her blind fumbling rather than put her on the ground. She watched and felt him and waited until her instincts triggered. Then she kicked out.
The kick was blocked by his forearm and she pulled her leg back before he could snatch it this time. She waited again and then took a jab with a fist. This was also blocked. She made three more failed attempts before she realized that she was going to have to try a different tactic. If she could get a hand on him, get in close, she would know where he was and have at least a small chance to land a blow. She waited for him to get behind her this time, hoping to back him into the wall so he couldn’t slip out of reach. When he was right where she wanted him to be, she spun around and made her move.
Kyra darted in close, sensing his mass as she came in range. She reached for something to grab and wrapped a hand around his forearm as he fell back, not quite anticipating her rush. For a moment she thought she’d succeeded but he apparently deduced what she had intended to do and in the next moment she felt him twist and push her past him, planting her face first into the wall. Before she could push off, he was on her, pressing up against her back to hold her in place.
“Not bad,” he growled low against her neck.
She made a small sound of frustration and jerked her elbow back, aiming at his ribs. He shifted to avoid the hit and she used the movement to push back against him as hard as she could, twisting in the process. She succeeded in turning herself around but not in freeing herself. Now she was face to face with him, pressed back against the rough stone wall. His eyes studied her with amusement.
Kyra’s brain was working swiftly, trying to find a way to get at least one hit on him before he tired of the game. She tried to jab at him with one hand and he caught it, raising it above her head and locking it to the wall. She tried placing her hand against his stomach experimentally and he pulled that hand up as well. It appeared that he wasn’t going to fall for her sexuality tactic this time either. So what options did she have left? Both of her hands were useless now so she had to use a leg. He still had a free hand so he could potentially catch the blow from one leg, but not two.
Kyra tensed as though she intended to knee him and he followed suit, preparing to block it. Before she actually swung, an idea came to her at the last second. It was one she would never use on a man unless she was prepared for it to backfire. In prison, she would never have used it at all. In this case, considering she wouldn’t mind the backlash, she went ahead with it. Instead of kicking out at him, she extended her leg and slotted her thigh between his. She pressed herself slowly against his crotch, surprised to feel that he was already half hard.
Riddick froze stock still. His eyes went sharp and intense and his grip on her wrists tightened almost painfully. She took advantage of it and leaned her head toward him, placing her lips against his neck and opening her mouth. Then, she bit him. Hard. The shudder that rocked his heavy frame echoed through her body. She drew back and met his eyes, a small smile on her face.
“Point,” she said very quietly.
Riddick stared and said nothing for a good ten seconds. Then he seemed to come back to life. He was devouring her mouth, his tongue searching hers out, teeth clashing. He pressed flush against her body and slid his free arm around her back, his big hand curving over her ass. Kyra accepted all of him, fighting him back equally as rough, sucking in air whenever she could around his mouth. He released his hold on her wrists and she let her arms fall across his shoulders as he tore away from her mouth and started down her neck.
Kyra braced herself with her arms and swung a leg around his waist. Sensing her intent, he placed both hands on her ass and lifted her body so that she could do the same with the other. He held her up that way, pushed against the wall, and ground his cock against her, his pants painfully tight. This time, Kyra was pleased to find that he didn’t pull away. She had known it would escalate to this the moment she decided to make that risky move and it had been completely worth it. The only problem now was the fact that she was tearing up her back on the wall behind her.
Riddick must have smelled the tiny amount of blood from the scratches because he pulled his head out of her neck and appeared to frown. He growled low in his throat and stepped back to set her down. Without another word, he took one of her arms and led her upstairs to the bedroom. There was enough faint light pouring in from the hole in the hallway that she could see his features now. He didn’t bother closing the door and she was thankful for it.
He brought her around and sat her on the bed, kneeling between her thighs and placing his arms to either side of her. He had the appearance of a beast about to take the first bite of a fresh kill, deciding which part would be the tastiest. Her blood boiled.
“Pretty sure I don’t need to tell you how this is gonna go,” he said, his voice nearly guttural.
There was an underlying question in his words. This is your one chance. Riddick was giving her an opportunity to speak up and say no. She had been thinking about this for so long, had been through so much hell for it, that there was no way she would say no at this point. Besides, she had been the instigator.
She answered his unspoken question by taking his mouth again, biting down on his lower lip just enough to get the point across. He didn’t ask again after that. His rough hands were in her shirt, riding it up and over her head. His thumbs grazed her hardened nipples as they passed, causing her to draw a sharp breath. At her reaction, he leaned forward and took one in his mouth, lathing with his tongue and pulling gently with his teeth. Kyra leaned back on one arm and rested her other hand on the back of his neck, the small jolts of pain and pleasure running down her back and settling in her groin.
He turned his attention to her other breast as he unbuttoned her pants. He hooked his fingers under her waistband and slid them down over the curve of her ass, along her thighs, and finally to pool discarded on the floor around the boots she kicked off. The smell of her sex hit him thick and heavy, already slick. Having disrobed her, he leaned back on his heels to admire his handiwork. Kyra glanced down at herself, then at him, and canted her head a bit.
“A little unfair, don’t you think, Riddick?”
He smiled his cherub smile and rewarded her with the removal of his black sleeveless shirt. Kyra had never seen him completely topless. He tended to show a lot of skin on his upper body and the skin-tight shirt gave a lot away but seeing him in full glory emphasized his inhuman physical prowess all the more. No wonder she’d hurt her hand when she punched his stomach. The man’s upper body was a fucking stone statue of thick muscle and cut, clean lines. She had no idea how it was possible for a human to be that big and solid, but then Kyra didn’t know about Riddick’s Alpha Furyan blood either. Riddick seemed amused by her blatant stare.
“Good thing I ain’t just a pretty face,” he said, bringing her back.
“What the hell are you,” she asked in awe.
“Maybe some time I’ll tell you,” he replied as he leaned forward again. “After I’m done wrapping you around me.”
Kyra’s belly churned again. Riddick braced himself on an arm, wrapped the other around Kyra’s waist, and slid her back to lie beneath him on the mattress. His huge frame practically eclipsed her as he lowered himself onto an elbow beside her, moving a hand down to work at the button and zipper of his pants. He kissed her again as a distraction, shoving his pants down far enough to free his cock. As with the rest of him, that was big and solid too, and he was just as skilled with it as with any of his other piercing weapons. Kyra’s eyes went wide when she caught sight of it, wondering how the fuck that was going to fit in her. What have I gotten myself into?
Riddick smirked when he read her expression but made no comment. He’d seen that look before and he had a feeling Kyra was strong enough to take him. He was getting tired of holding back, though, and if he didn’t move this forward soon he was afraid his animal side would step in and start getting rough. He didn’t want to be rough with her this time. That would come later.
He ran a hand up along one of her inner thighs, spreading her legs so he could fit his hips between them. He wasn’t kissing her now because he wanted to watch her, see the expressions she made, hear every noise that passed her lips. He wanted to see her reaction when he filled her to bursting, pierced her sweet spot, and watched her ecstasy bleed out beneath him. He brought his free hand to the cleft of her legs and slid two fingers between her folds, sinking them deep while he brushed the pad of his thumb across her clitoris.
Kyra gasped and arched her back, placing her hands flat against his chest and digging her nails into his skin. He felt her clench around him and pumped his fingers, using her own fluids to make her slick while his thumb built her up. Kyra surprised him by raising her legs and encircling his waist, locking her ankles at the small of his back. She raised her lower body up, driving his fingers into her down to the knuckle. She tossed her head to the side and made a low mewl, squeezing her eyes shut. Riddick removed his fingers from her and turned her face back to him.
“No,” he commanded, “eyes open for this.”
She obeyed, face flushed pink, and met his eyes. He wanted her to know exactly who it was in control of her body now. Know exactly who it was on her skin, inside her. He wanted her fully aware of what he was doing to her at every moment until she was no longer able to think straight. When he was certain that he had her full attention, he lifted her hips and pressed the head of his cock against her entrance. His jaw was clenched tight, fighting a vicious battle of restraint with himself. Slowly, he pushed himself inside.
He had to fight for every inch against her tight flesh, worrying at first for just a second that he was going to hurt her. She clenched her teeth and squinted against the pain at first, bracing her hands on his shoulders. She was no virgin but he was built very differently from standard human males so this was to be expected. After an initial tense moment, she relaxed her body and shifted her hips a bit more to improve the angle. He slid as far in as he could go, hitting her back wall with a couple of inches to spare and stopping just long enough to admire the heaving of her chest and the drunken expression on her face. The pulsing of her blood around him singing for release. He raised himself above her on both arms, muscles flexed and stiff.
“Hold on,” he growled, and began to move.
He began with long, slow strokes at first, pulling almost all the way out and pushing all the way in. Kyra had her eyebrows drawn down in concentration, looking like she did when she was trying to fight him. She was shifting her hips in time with his movements, finding the angle she needed to enhance her pleasure. He saw the moment when she found it bloom on her face and needed no further invitation.
Riddick increased his pace, driving into her with force and watching her eyes start to glaze. She slid her hands from his shoulders, down his chest, and over his stomach, dragging her nails across his skin again. The pain drove him closer to orgasm, not because it hurt but because it was a primal challenge addressed to his inner animal. Below him Kyra was writhing, producing sounds he’d never heard before, her voice squeaking from her tightened throat. He brought his thumb down and brushed her clitoris again, causing her to jerk and spasm against him. She cried out wordlessly as he continued to work her with his thumb, he cock stretching her painfully tight as he swelled with the oncoming of his own climax.
After a few more strokes of his thumb her body shuddered violently and arched, her head tossing back. She panted heavily as her orgasm rolled over him in waves, her walls clenching around him, her hips rising to meet him. The feeling of it sank deep into the base of his skull and rode down his spine, pooling in his gut. His nostrils flared with the smell of her fluids and he found he could no longer hold the animal back.
He arched over her onto his elbow and buried his face in the crook of her neck, moving his lowered hand around to clamp on her hip. With the scent and feel of her everywhere around him, he gave in and began to pump into her even harder and faster. She wrapped her arms around his chest and clawed into his back, gasping at the brutal pace. He felt the tightness building to its finality in his lower stomach and growled at her abuse.
“Yes, Riddick,” she panted into his ear as though to grant him permission.
The call of his name drove him over the edge. His pace became frantic as his balls clenched. His orgasm rode down his spine, washing over him and spilling out into her, a low rumble sounding deep in his throat. Kyra released a slow breath as he filled her with hot ejaculate and then stilled, blood pounding in his ears.
Riddick took a moment to calm himself and return to a slightly more human thought process. Kyra unwrapped herself from around him and he pulled out of her, sliding his body down next to hers. He felt the call of true sleep but pushed it off for now. Sex was one of the few activities that could bring it on and even then, not every time. Beside him Kyra stretched herself out, a flash of discomfort passing over her face. He almost felt bad for her. She had taken the full force of him even though he had done his best not to expose her to it just yet. There was something about her smell, the way she moved around him, and the call of her own animal that made it nearly impossible to keep himself in check. He’d known the taste of her flesh would be sweet but this had been even better than anticipated.
Kyra turned to watch him but didn’t speak. He surveyed his work, admiring the mess he’d made of her. When he said nothing, she rolled over to turn her back to him. He ran his fingertips over the small scratches on her upper back from the basement wall, tracing the scrapes and smoothing over rough skin. He glanced down at the small mark imprinted on her skin just above the curve of her buttock. He had seen it earlier that day when she walked her naked ass right past him.
What Kyra hadn’t known about his visit upon her earlier was that he was doing reconnaissance. This was a mark given to women in the penal system, especially in higher security prisons, that indicated that they had been sterilized. The mark was very small and almost flesh-colored so as not to turn it into another open invitation, although most guards didn’t really care about that. They only cared about not having to deal with any unplanned pregnancies. The procedure was considered reversible but the process was expensive and most women in high security prisons either didn’t leave or didn’t live long enough to worry about reversing it. For Kyra’s sake, he’d needed to be sure he wouldn’t be forcing anything like that onto her before dragging her down into his world.
But he would never tell her that. Beside him, Kyra’s breathing slowed and she fell into sleep. For once Riddick actually joined her.
Chapter 41: Day 75, Smuggler Hideout, Pirin 1
Holy shit, Kyra thought when she rolled over and saw the sleeping man behind her. Riddick was actually asleep. Fully unconscious and unaware of his surroundings. Her bladder was complaining but she told it to politely shut the fuck up and wait because seeing a sleeping Riddick was akin to finding out that dragons were real. She would have snapped a fucking picture if she had any way of doing so.
Kyra had been hoping that if she ever saw this, it would make him look somehow different. Magical, like sleeping allowed him to shed the wear of the world or something. In reality, he just looked exactly the same as he always did when he had is eyes closed. Like a sleeping tiger. Cute and vulnerable enough to want to pet but you knew you were going to lose an arm in the process. The only indication that he truly was asleep was a nearly imperceptible slowing of his breathing and an indescribable change in the air around him. Kyra only picked up on it because she had grown attuned to his frequencies.
Something about the lay of him hinted that if she touched him or moved too quickly he would snap to wakefulness. Wild animals always seemed to have a reflex that brought them to full awareness in circumstances like that. She didn’t want to wake him yet but she couldn’t stop herself from entertaining the thought that this would be the perfect time to strike at him, if that was her goal. She could do something harmless, a poke in the ribs or perhaps a pinch in a tender spot. Did he even have tender spots? Now was as good a time as any to find out.
While she was browsing possible targets on his upper body she missed the air about him change. She only realized that he was awake when he spoke, causing her to jump in her skin.
“Keep staring like that and I might think you want seconds,” he mumbled.
“Fuck,” she breathed and slapped his chest with the flat of her palm in aggravation.
Riddick put a hand over hers to trap it there and leaned in, cracking his eyelids enough to study her mouth like it was something he quite literally wanted to eat.
“If you insist,” he offered playfully.
Kyra pinched him and he flashed his teeth at her.
“Unless you’re into some really twisted shit,” she said, “I need to take care of some business.”
She didn’t wait for an answer, slipping out of bed and grabbing the towel she’d hung over the back of the small chair to make a break for the bathroom. He followed her out with his eyes. The lights were still off everywhere but the candle in the bathroom had inexplicably remained lit. It was nearly burned to the nub and wax had spilled over and around it, climbing over the edge of the sink and hanging down. Kyra wasn’t sure it would last much longer so she left the door open to allow the beam of light from the passageway to give her some small amount of illumination.
The beam was thin and slanted at such a long angle that Kyra thought it must be very early morning. The day cycle on this planet was shorter than the Earth average by about a third so she hadn’t been asleep for an unreasonably long amount of time. It felt like she’d been sleeping for days. Her body was a bit sore in intimate places but it wasn’t uncomfortable. She was only sore because it had been a long time since she’d last had sex, or rather, had it forced onto her. That had been the first thing to stop once she’d learned how to kill.
Kyra looked herself over in the mirror to make sure she wasn’t broken anywhere and then started the shower. When the water was hot, she stepped in and winced at the sting of the scrapes on her back. She washed herself both inside and out, catching odd little whiffs of Riddick’s smell as she did so. He’d been rough with her but it wasn’t a surprise considering he was a rough man in general, and Kyra could handle it. She was stronger than she looked. Still, the clawing part had been new. She didn’t know what had possessed her to do that to him but he didn’t seem to mind. Maybe I’m more animal than I think.
A few minutes into her shower the candle flickered out. Kyra hadn’t expected it to burn out quite that fast but thought nothing of it until a few minutes later when someone stepped under the spray of water behind her. On instinct, she lashed out behind her with her elbow, caught yet again by Riddick’s hand. He looked at it, then looked at her, clearly amused.
“You got a thing for that, don’t you?”
“I’m not a fan of getting snuck up on,” she said as she lowered her arm, unapologetic.
Riddick reached over her and adjusted the sprayer head so it was hitting him a bit more. Then he caught her hip in one hand and squeezed.
“You weren’t a fan of being touched, either,” he said.
Kyra shrugged, keeping her back to him.
“That was more about who than what.”
“So you do like being touched,” he said as he ghosted his mouth over her shoulder.
“Only when I want to be,” she replied, resisting his attempt to get her worked up.
For Kyra, it was always a challenge of some kind. Riddick was easily strong enough to overpower her but he never forced himself onto her unless she drove him to it. He was a vicious killer but he wasn’t abusive or cruel unless his target gave him a reason to be, and he would never intentionally hurt anyone he considered to be his own. But she had learned a few things about him in her attempts to use her sexuality as a weapon. First, he knew that game and how it was played. Knew how to see through it to a woman’s true intentions. Second, he hadn’t expected Kyra to be capable of playing that game, especially after he’d learned about what happened to her during the five years he’d been away. And finally, whether he admitted it or not, he was drawn to her. She was a sexual creature now that he couldn’t resist, didn’t seem to want to resist when it was convenient for him to partake.
Kyra knew Riddick had learned a few things about her along the way as well. First, he could toy with her all he wanted but she was capable of shutting him down in a way no one else could and she would give back as much as she got from him. Second, she had made peace with her past and achieved a level of stability that gave her as much mental strength as he seemed to naturally possess. And she had done it in her own way, without his hand to guide her. Finally, he may have put a leash on her but she was not and never would be tame.
Behind her, Riddick was massaging her hip with a thumb in small circles and sliding his other hand across her ribs under the swell of her breasts. She felt her body responding and almost allowed herself to give in. However, this time she had a lesson to teach him and it was one she knew strong alpha males had a terrible time learning. Kyra turned to face him, watching his glowing eyes move down over her body. The man was practically salivating, cock half hard. Good, it would make the lesson stick all the more.
Kyra brought a hand up very slowly and placed it against his cheek in the most tender way she could, watching Riddick track it the entire time. She gave him her sweetest smile and leaned up to bring her mouth a hair’s breadth from his. His nostrils flared as he tasted her scent. She gave him a second to process her apparent willingness before her next move.
“Wasting water,” she said very softly, in a seductive tone.
Then she patted his cheek twice and left him standing in the shower alone. She repeated her move from yesterday by slinging her small towel around her shoulders and walking buck naked out the door without a single glance back. Had she looked back, she would have seen his knowing smirk.
Leashed, Riddick, but never tame.
At breakfast, Riddick cooked more of the meat from the creature he’d hunted a few days ago. Kyra was waiting eagerly for him to finish, staring at the piece of flesh with the promise of slaughter. He almost laughed when he passed it to her and she almost took his hand off snatching the plate. He left her to it and by the time he’d prepared his own, she was finished. Sometimes she acted almost too much like an animal.
He brought his food over and sat across from her to eat. She was turned sideways lounging along the metal bench on her side of the table playing with the tiny piece of curved metal that she had ‘kissed’ him with the first time they had crossed paths on Crematoria. It was designed to fit between her cheek and jaw, hidden from guards and unsuspecting fellow prisoners alike. To his knowledge, Kyra hadn’t used it since then and it was a wonder that she even still had it.
When he was finished with his meal, he took both plates and set them in the wide metal sink, picking something up off the counter and returning to sit on the end of the table next to her. She looked up at him expectantly.
“Since you did so well last time, we’re gonna start on blades today.”
Kyra straightened immediately and gave him her best bring it on look. That look made him want to do things to her. Riddick tossed her the long strip of black cloth he held. She caught it and looked it over.
“What’s this for,” she asked, confused.
He smiled a tiger’s smile at her, teeth flashing.
Kyra paled slightly and he could tell she was wondering whether or not deciding to stick around with him was really such a good idea. Her little play in the shower earlier was going to cost her.
And it only gets better from here.
Chapter 42: Epilogue - Day 348, Smuggler Hideout, Pirin 1
It was almost time to go. Kyra shoved a multitude of supplies into her canvas sack. The sack was wearing out. The rough fabric was thin and tiny holes had worn through in some places. She would need to replace it soon. Thinking back about how she’d acquired it, she remembered the forested moon and its strange dark landscape. She felt no pangs of nostalgia for it but she did wonder how Flicker was doing, if the creature was still alive.
Into the sack went several pairs of clothes, a small collection of various tools she’d learned to use, a set of lockpicks, an empty canteen, a few spare blades and her extra straps to use when attaching them in certain places on her body. Those blades she chose to wear went into hidden spots somewhere on her person, with one exception. Strapped to her thigh in its holster sat the familiar weight of her big hunting knife, bared for all the ‘verse to see. Riddick had also moved a few supplies such as food and water into her ship from the Adder a few days ago. Thinking of him reminded her of what had happened between them yesterday.
It was early morning and the sun was just beginning its low arch across the sky, hanging fat and orange just above a rocky hill in the distance. High overhead, the Helion system’s points of light winked down at her while she made her way to the cave that served as a hangar for the two vessels parked inside. One was the intimidating Adder, its sleek serpent-like bulk towering over the smaller ship beside it. The other ship was a low, squat single-person vessel designed for medium range travel that vaguely resembled a scorpion. The word “Stinger” was printed in black lettering just below the pilot’s window beside an emblem of a scorpion.
They had acquired the second ship during a quick supply run three months ago when the generator had given out and needed a replacement belt. Just before heading back, they had been attacked by a small group of eight pirates intent on killing them and taking their ship. They lasted about a minute. One of those men had tried to escape by running to the Stinger, which had been his at the time, and when he was dead Riddick had taken one look at the vessel and told Kyra to pilot it back with them. When Kyra had asked him why he’d simply replied with, “in case I need you to run to the store.”
Now the smaller ship was dark and empty. Not in there, then. Kyra was looking for Riddick because he’d mentioned not long ago that he needed to talk about something. Riddick didn’t really talk about things so she was curious about what he might have to say. Since her training had petered off in the last few weeks Riddick had grown, for lack of a better word, antsy. He had been using the Adder’s console to search for something, look up information, but whenever Kyra tried to spy on him to find out what it was he sensed her and shut it down. She knew he would be there now even though she couldn’t see into the shadowed cockpit.
Kyra entered the ship as quietly as she could through the hold and snuck up to the cockpit, using every technique she’d learned to avoid making noise or shifting too much air. She’d practiced enough to successfully sneak up on Riddick twice before but he continued to catch her most of the time. Now that she knew about his unnaturally heightened senses she supposed that, with him, it would always be nearly impossible.
As she came to the door and stopped, she waited and listened this time instead of peeking through it as she had during the last few attempts. She heard a man speaking through the ship’s console, presumably to Riddick. She listened intently.
“If you’d told me what it was you were looking for in that little letter of yours, this would have gone differently. We might have helped. But I can’t change their minds now. You have two weeks to show yourself or they’ll consider this abandonment of duties and begin ascension rights.”
“You don’t want me gone, now do you,” replied Riddick, “Vaako? And here I thought we were friends.”
“What I want, Lord Marshal, doesn’t matter,” the other voice said stiffly. “The only thing that matters is the sanctity of the throne and the faith. Neither of which you seem to subscribe to.”
“It matters when some other stupid fuck is gonna get my seat instead of you. Ain’t that right?”
The other voice was silent for nearly a minute. Kyra took the moment to peek around the corner very slowly and quietly. Riddick was sitting in his pilot seat with a video communication pulled up on the view screen in front of him. In it, she saw a man in ornate Necromonger armor standing in the center of a ship’s bridge. It was the man with the weird haircut she had seen in the message Riddick had been watching shortly after taking off from IG-4. And now that she had a better look at him, she knew exactly who he was.
A chill ran down her spine. This man, this Necromonger, was the same one that had tried to kill them all at the hangar on Crematoria. And he was talking to Riddick now as though they knew each other. As though they were allies. The thought of Riddick being one of them, being a Necromonger, made her gut twist horribly. Had he been lying to her this whole time? Had he been the one to kill Imam after all?
On the screen, Vaako opened his mouth to say something but stopped, his eyes flicking over to where Kyra was standing now partially revealed in the doorway. His features flooded with sudden understanding. Riddick wheeled in his chair the moment the man’s expression changed and spotted her. His hand moved to the button that would end the transmission. As though he had anticipated this, Vaako spoke first.
“Helion. Two weeks,” he said curtly and then ended the transmission himself.
Riddick had no expression on his face. He rose slowly to his feet and began to take measured steps toward her. Kyra was staring at him as confusion and horror constricted her spine.
“Kyra,” he said very softly, as if saying it any louder would break her.
Even then, it broke her paralysis. She turned and fled from the ship, hearing Riddick’s boots behind her. She was faster than him, her one true advantage over him, and instead of returning to the hideout they shared she took off across the rocky landscape. She lost him in a matter of minutes and just kept going, running blind and knowing only that she needed to escape.
Her mind couldn’t wrap itself around what she had seen. These Necromongers had nearly killed Riddick, they had killed Imam, and they nearly destroyed the entire Helion system and half the galaxy in their vicious conquest. They were spoken of with fear and awe in the shadows of the ‘verse and they were considered the enemy of all human life. Why the fuck would Riddick be working with them? If Kyra knew him at all, she thought he would have come to them with all his fury and slaughtered every last one until their blood stained the very stars. And what the hell was Lord Marshal supposed to mean? Did Riddick hold some title of power with them?
Kyra was starting to cry now, her vision going blurry as she came to a small crevice created by the two halves of a massive split boulder about the size of a small apartment building. The crevice opened into a low, round natural amphitheater of stone. Kyra had been here before when she needed to be alone. She stood in the middle of the space and stared up at Helion’s faint stars above, wishing with every fiber of her being that she could see Imam again. That he would give her some fatherly advice or tell her that there was a purpose for all things.
She let the tears come then. She hadn’t cried, really cried, since her time in the hold confronting her demons. She had never really taken the time to grieve for the loss of her friend, either. Riddick had kept her so busy while they were here that she hadn’t had a chance to dwell on anything else. Now, she was crying for all the people who had died to save her on M6-117 when she would otherwise have been eaten by bioraptors. She was crying for those who had died on Helion Prime, for Imam, and for the sake of his now fatherless family. She was crying for those who had died helping her escape from Crematoria. And when she’d cried enough, she stopped crying and turned around. And Riddick was there.
He was standing just inside the amphitheater, watching her with his goggles on in the daylight. He didn’t come close or make any attempt to console her. He simply waited. Waited for her to speak, to curse him or tell him to leave or tell him that she hated him. Kyra didn’t hate him. She loved Riddick and no Necromonger army would ever change that. She knew it was true that he had never lied to her. Perhaps not given her the entire truth but never lied. If he was working with the Necromongers, there had to be a reason for it. They were his enemies, or so she thought. Maybe she didn’t really know what his relation to them was. Would he even tell her if she asked? Probably not. And there was only one thing she wanted to ask right now anyways.
Riddick didn’t reply for a few minutes. Kyra couldn’t tell what he was thinking, if he was trying to decide how much to tell her or how to spin it to his advantage.
“They got something I want. Something I can’t get anywhere else,” he said simply without elaborating further.
“What,” Kyra pursued.
“Furya,” he said.
Kyra hadn’t heard him mention anything like this before. This was something private. Something close to him that he never let others in on. She wondered if she should press him for more. Whatever it was, the Necromonger’s had it and he wanted it so he was using them to get it. That made sense.
“What are you, to them,” she asked.
“Does it matter?”
Riddick crossed his arms over his chest and sighed.
“I’m the Big Guy,” he said. “Fucking head honcho. Lord Marshal, if you ask them.”
Kyra balked at that. Riddick was their leader?
“How,” she asked incredulously.
“I killed the guy who tried to kill me. The guy I thought killed you. The guy that killed everyone,” he said. “They have a nice little rule that says you get to keep what you kill. So I kept it.”
His explanation was so simple it was almost funny. He’d killed their leader and in doing so he had just … stepped right up to the throne and taken the crown.
“And when you get what you want from them,” Kyra asked.
“After that,” he shrugged, “not my concern. They can all go fuck off to their underverse for all I care.”
Kyra felt a sudden surge of anger.
“So that’s it,” she spat. “You just get what you want and disappear? After what they did? So they can do it again?”
Riddick was silent again for a long time. Then he uncrossed his arms and came to stand in front of her, practically in her face.
“What are you expecting me to do, Kyra,” he asked in a very low and measured tone. “I ain’t a nice guy. I ain’t some fucking hero. I’m a murderer and an animal. You know that. The only thing I care about is me and mine. Some asshole fucked with that, so I killed him. And I got a free private army out of it, so fucking what?”
Riddick wasn’t showing his emotions but Kyra could feel the anger radiating off of him in waves.
“But that asshole took something else from me that I’m gonna get back. And somewhere in that army is the info I need to get it. And when I do, I don’t give a shit what happens to them or the rest of this fucked up ‘verse. So long as I have me and mine, that’s all that matters. That’s all that’ll ever matter.”
Kyra felt so small before his fury. He was right. She did know that about him. And it wasn’t that she expected him to become some great hero and destroy the Necromongers for justice. She just had a thing for taking vengeance against those that had wronged her. It was a Jack thing. And in her mind it had been the entire army that was responsible, not one man. But he was right about that too. The army itself was just a tool. And it was a tool that was now in his hand, to use as he saw fit. The fact that they weren’t still slaughtering entire planetary systems said something to that. Maybe Riddick was kinder than he realized.
“Where does that put me,” Kyra asked in a small voice.
“Mine,” he said with a possessive growl.
Before Kyra could respond to that Riddick wrapped an arm around her and lifted her up over his shoulder. He carried her slung over his shoulder like a sack all the way back to the hideout. Every time she tried to struggle or ask him what the hell he was doing, he would slap her ass to shut her up. When he got her inside, he entered the mess and plopped her unceremoniously down on the table.
Kyra flopped back on the smooth metal surface and tried to sit up. As she did so, Riddick yanked her to the edge of the table and pushed himself between her thighs. Kyra saw that he was already hard and straining against his pants. He tore his goggles off and leaned forward to slide his arms under her torso, pulling her up and against him. Instead of kissing her, he locked his eyes on hers and lifted her arms up over his shoulders where she wrapped them around his neck.
“There’s something I need you to do for me,” he said.
Riddick stepped back only long enough to remove Kyra’s pants. He was against her again the moment they hit the floor. Kyra was having difficulty staying focused. He always had a way of making her brain go fuzzy at times like this.
“You’re asking me to leave, aren’t you,” she said with a hint of sadness.
Riddick unfastened his pants and freed himself, pressing the head of his cock against her entrance.
“Where I’m going next,” he said, “you can’t follow.”
Without looking away, he pushed into her. Kyra gasped and placed her forehead against his.
“I’m strong enough,” she said.
Riddick began to thrust against her, fast and hard. Kyra thought he might be taking some of his anger out on her. She would let him this time.
“It ain’t about being strong,” he said.
Kyra knew it was true. Riddick was sending her away to protect her. She just didn’t want to accept it. Riddick brought a hand down to stroke her as he increased his pace. She spread her thighs a bit wider and locked her ankles behind him.
“What if I disappear,” she hissed as her body began to approach climax.
Kyra felt her fingers curling, digging into his skin. She clenched her teeth as her body tensed, breath coming quick and fast, in time with his movements.
“I’ll always find you, Kyra,” he growled, muscles flexing as his own climax built.
She finally broke away from his stare when the orgasm hit, arching her back and closing her eyes against it, surging pleasure clenching her walls. A few seconds later Riddick came as well, thrusting hard and frantic, muscles trembling and his face burying in her neck again. When he had calmed a bit, he met her eyes again. She kissed him then, once and gently, in a way she had never done before. It was her goodbye kiss, though he may not have known it then.
Riddick released her and they separated. Nothing about what he’d said spoke of finality. She would leave, as he wished, and she would just have to trust that when the time came he would find her again. Until then, she would be his animal, stalking the dark places of the ‘verse and waiting to hear his call.
“So what is it you need me to do,” she asked when she was dressed again.
Riddick told her.
Hoisting her sack, Kyra slipped the memory away to relive later when she was alone and thinking of him. She had no idea how long it would take for Riddick to find what he was looking for and come for her. Maybe if she finished her tasks before he did, she would go find him. This time without getting tossed into a triple max. She walked out to the Stinger and loaded her meager belongings into its small storage space. Her own tasks could take on the order of years if you considered cryosleep time. She had a long way to go and a lot of places to stop. But first, she thought she might swing by New Mecca and see Lajjun and Ziza.
Kyra closed the hatch and settled into her seat. The ship was small on the inside and definitely not meant for more than a single person but the lack of passenger space gave it more room for fuel storage and engine capacity. Plus, it had a few guns retrofitted to its hull and was incredibly maneuverable. She started it up and began pre-flight diagnostics, entering the coordinates for Helion Prime in the ship’s navigation console. From here, it was only a nine day trip.
As she was preparing, she felt a small twinge of regret for not actually having said goodbye to Riddick. She still had a little childishness in her and probably always would, so she had avoided it. If she saw him again now, it might stop her from leaving. Kyra powered the engines and steered the ship out of the cave, raising the nose to climb up and away from the planet. No matter how much she wanted to, she didn’t look back.
Somewhere out on the rocky landscape below, Riddick crouched as he watched Kyra’s ship tear up and away into the sky. It was a relief knowing she’d be far away when he returned to the Necromongers. Vaako knew about her existence but he had no details. As long as she did what he asked and gave him time to settle his business with them, she wouldn’t be at risk for becoming a tool or a victim. When her ship disappeared, Riddick grinned. Kyra was as trained and strengthened as he could make her in the time they’d had here. God help any poor fucks who went up against her now.
Maybe when all of this was said and done and he had Furya at last, he would bring her to it. He looked forward to the time when he could search for her again. Knowing there was another animal out there just like him filled him with a savage glee and he knew that tracking her down wouldn’t be easy. But it was better that way. When the time finally came, it would be his greatest hunt yet.