The screams tore the air and were so abruptly cut off that in any other circumstance they would have dismissed the sound as some trick of the wind. Every muscle in Riddick tensed when Imam sprang up at the first scream, “the little ones!”
He fought with Riddick but Riddick wasn’t going to let him go, he looked past him to Johns, the only one of them that was armed, and said, “The coring room.” It seemed strange to run towards the building, which was once again silent, except for the whir of the solar machinery on the roof, but everyone ran nonetheless. Shazza held onto Jack’s arm fiercely, and wouldn’t let him run ahead no matter how much he pulled.
“It’s locked from the inside Johns, you’ll have to shoot the lock off.” Johns didn’t like that Riddick was giving him orders but he didn’t see anything that could be done about it. One look at Riddick was enough to tell him that if Johns didn’t do as he was told, that Riddick would simply take the shotgun from him and do it himself. Where that would leave Johns he didn’t want to think about.
The shotgun barked for the second time that day and the doors to the coring room swung slowly open. Imam wrenched himself free from Riddick’s grasp and ran forward into the building, his frantic calls for the two young boys echoed across the cavernous room.
The door at the rear of the room had rattled, and all Imam could think of was that the boys were in trouble. He barely touched it before it flew open, to bang against the wall beside it.
“Down, now!” Everyone in the room dropped to the floor of the room at Riddick’s harshly shouted command; everyone except Imam, who merely ducked out of the way at the strange cloud of leathery wings and sharp clicks and squeals that raced towards them from a darkened corner.
No sense could be made of the cloud; no individual shape could be picked out, only that it was a threat. It raced around the shell of the building as though it sought escape. It moved as one, like a school of fish, before it descended in a rush down the main shaft of the coring room. The sound died out as suddenly as it had begun.
It would have been hard to believe that anything real had happened at all, if not for the keening of Imam, at what was left of the two young boys. They had been picked clean by whatever had flown out of sight down into the coring shaft.
“…They ran here, heavy storage. Thought they’d be safe inside.” Riddick crouched over the open shaft of the coring room. They had all watched, as the green flare seemed to fall forever to the floor below, a rough tunnel that appeared to run between the buildings. It was littered with human remains. He pulled back a little at the harsh glare and slipped his goggles back over his eyes. “Looks like they forgot to lock the basement.”
Everyone else had gone back outside, too shocked by what they saw. There were hundreds of skeletons down in the tunnels. Johns had said that these creatures might be the very ones that had killed every thing that lived on the planet. No one answered, it had after all seemed painfully obvious, and after they had to bury the two boys in the courtyard outside, obvious was the last thing that was needed.
Shazza stayed, her entire weight pressed against the wall as if she was afraid that if she moved she would fall and never get up again. She had wanted to kill Riddick, at one point, and had beaten him when he was down, which in her eyes made her no better than Johns.
She had been willing to accept that something else had killed Zeke, because cold hard reason had told her it was so, but she still couldn’t get her mind around it until this moment, until she saw.
She was so ashamed. She had been so quick to judge this man, and she didn’t know how to even begin to apologize for it.
He stayed crouched over the tunnel and hoped that Shazza would just leave. He didn’t really want her to leave, but he didn’t know the first thing to say to her, which meant that they definitely had one thing in common, because he didn’t think she knew what to say to him either.
Her knuckles were white on the bag she had carried with her and she took one step towards him. Every muscle in him tensed as he watched her out of the corner of his eye. She didn’t look like she could hold her own weight and he thought that he would have to catch her, but he didn’t want it to look like he was waiting for just that.
He didn’t know what he wanted at all; he had never felt so unsure of himself, so awkward. So he stayed still and waited for her. Shazza took one last look at the door to make sure she wouldn’t be stopped by Johns before she handed him the breather she had brought all this way.
It wasn’t what he had expected, and he knew what she risked. If Johns had known about the breather he believed he would have made a point to take it from her, and would have likely hurt her if she had resisted. Maybe he would have hurt her anyway, just for the thought alone.
Like starving him before he loaded him on the HG, he knew Johns wanted him weakened and exhausted, and not being able to breathe helped Johns keep some sort of control over him. Johns knew that he needed every edge he could get, and Shazza had just taken that from him.
Shazza had carried it the whole way, and had waited until they were finally alone before she handed it to him. Her voice shook, as she started to speak, but there was strength in it too, and he found that he admired her yet again. “I’m sorry, Riddick.”
Her apology was simple and sincere, she didn’t try to impress him with a flowery apology; she didn’t ask him to forgive her, and she didn’t say what the apology was for. She didn’t need to, the guilt and shame had been written on her face for hours, since she first realized that he hadn’t killed Zeke.
He didn’t know what to say to take that away either. If it was anyone else he would have used their emotions against them, but he couldn’t imagine doing that to Shazza. He couldn’t imagine wanting to hurt her, and like so many things that had already happened to him today it left him confused.
He had started to think that he had been in prison so long, had been on the run so long, had been away from ‘civilians’ so long, that he could no longer comprehend how normal people felt anymore.
Could he only ever relate to people like himself, and how could he bear to live like that forever? He wanted more, but it had been so long that he had no idea what it was he wanted, or what to do with it when he had it. Shazza had given him something because she cared enough to do so. She cared, and no one had done that in a long, long time.
The breathers had been made for everyone at a time when she had only heard bad things about him, from Johns, but at that moment she had decided that he was one of them, that he belonged. No matter what Johns had said about him.
“I’m sorry about Zeke.” In the end it was all he could say, he didn’t know anything else. Shazza heard in his voice that his apology came as hard to him as her own did. He looked down once more into the tunnel as if he sought the answers there, before he took a grateful deep breath, finally able to breathe fully again. “This is all starting to fall apart, Shazza. When the time comes, will you trust me?” He didn’t want to look at her when he asked, he didn’t want to see the rejection if it was there. She stepped closer to him and he had to look up anyway. She nodded once, and he could feel her gaze, despite the goggles.
Johns felt a flicker of dread as Riddick stood, when he saw the breather and knew that the next time he threatened Riddick; it wouldn’t be a weakened Riddick that could barely breathe that he would have to deal with. He wanted to tell Shazza that she was the stupidest woman in the world and that Riddick had just played her, but he had the impression that wasn’t going to work anymore.
Something else was going on here, and he got the feeling that if he were to threaten Shazza in even the slightest way, that Riddick would kill him without a second thought. John didn’t really understand why Riddick was going along with their deal in the first place, but he didn’t want to push his luck. “Come on, let’s board this place up and get the hell out of here.”