“Stay in the light, Jack.” Jack had poked his head past the torn out hole in the side of the building, and was about to slip inside for a better look, when Riddick’s voice seemed to whisper right in his ear. It was right in his ear, or close enough.
Riddick had crossed the expanse between the two buildings without being heard, and had stood right behind Jack, close enough to grab him. Shazza wasn’t as quiet as Riddick but she was just a few steps behind.
They both stood and watched Riddick as he listened at the side of the building, as he listened to the dark, his head tilted as though he heard something they couldn’t. As one their eyes moved down to the sharpened piece of steel Riddick had gripped in his hand.
He had been prepared to defend Jack against whatever he feared had been in that building. This would be another secret between them as Riddick took a step back from the opening, the makeshift blade disappeared somewhere within his clothing. Another part of Johns’ deal, no shivs.
Shazza looked at him and back at the gaping hole in the side of the building just as a small gust of wind whistled through the empty spaces. The three suns burned down on them, and all of them were slicked in sweat, but she had never felt so cold in her whole life. She didn’t want to question what he had said earlier, but the words were out before she could stop them. “Is it gone, Riddick?”
Riddick was used to people being scared of him; he could just talk and grown men would literally shit themselves with fear. Fear was something he was used to; trust wasn’t. He glanced at Shazza, his surprise easily hidden by his goggles, and pressed Jack’s ribs a little harder to nudge him out of the way of the opening in the building.
He stole surreptitious glances at Shazza as they walked towards a large building in the middle of the compound where the others had gathered. She walked beside him comfortably and that was something new to him. He had spent time with women of course, but never for this long, and never this casually. “There’s something here, but I only hear it in the dark, and not very often; I think we’re safe if we stay out of these buildings.”
Shazza noticed that when he talked to her and Jack there was no threat in his voice, it didn’t drip with contempt. It was as deep as it was before, but softer somehow, not a gentle voice by any means, but he spoke without threat. It put everything he had said before, to everyone else, in a completely different light. He used his voice as a weapon, but never against her, or against Jack. Never against Imam. He didn’t speak to the three young boys, as they spoke almost nothing but Arabic, but Shazza knew that his voice would never threaten them either.
“So we should stick together, right?” Jack had turned to watch them both as he asked, and the quiet pleading in his voice wrenched at Shazza’s heart. She had wondered what the bloody hell a boy his age was doing out here alone; she didn’t need to ask about parents or guardians, because she knew there were none.
She had lived a hard life, but she was an adult, for most of it anyway. Shazza put her arm across Jack’s shoulder as Riddick went back to pull the makeshift sled into the lee of the building where the others were, some sort of large communal room.
Jack’s voice had pulled at him too, although he would never admit it. He knew her secret, and felt an incredible wave of protectiveness for her wash over him. It was another one of those things he had never experienced before and so he settled for the comfort of silence, it was easier that way.
All three shared a look; none of them wanted to say it out loud, as if to even say it was to promise more than any of them could give. They would try to stay together, to protect each other from what would come.
Fry spotted the skiff as she and Johns had rounded the corner of one of the buildings closest to the canyon. Like the settlement itself when seen from the canyon she had at first thought it was a mirage. It was the flap of its tattered sails, which would burn up once the emergency ship reached the atmosphere that convinced her that it was real.
It was ancient, an antique, Paris muttered under his breath as he followed behind them. Right now it looked like the most magnificent, the most beautiful thing she had ever set eyes on. She let up a short whoop before she was able to stop herself; she was going to get off this rock. As she walked under the wings of the ship to look for an entry hatch, it had never even crossed her mind that she had only spoken of herself.
Imam came around the corner of the building alone; as the boys had nearly completed the repairs to the water generator. He clapped his hands together and smiled hugely at the sight of the skiff, and joined Jack as he walked around and underneath the wings, and remained beneath them while Fry and Johns discussed what would be needed to make the craft space worthy. He stood for a moment, with his arm across Jack’s shoulders, and watched as Riddick calmly walked towards Fry and Johns.
For a moment the two men stood almost eye to eye with one another, as Johns stood on the ramp of the skiff. There was no mistaking that Riddick was a large man, both in sheer muscle and in height, but there was also a powerful presence to him that could not be denied; which made him seem to loom over Johns, despite his elevated position on the ramp. He stood at ease in what could only be described as a relaxed military bearing; it was clearly a stance he was comfortable in, and for some reason Imam believed that this made Johns very uncomfortable, almost frightened. It was as if the two men fought a battle of wills, silently, while Johns stood on the ramp.
He listened as Riddick spoke about shipping lanes and how they could easily get the skiff off the ground. From the look on Johns face, Imam got the impression that he was angry about Riddick’s apparent knowledge, and he sent Riddick away to find material to patch the wings with.
“Call for me if you need help. Stay with the skiff, if you can.” Riddick had said it quietly as he passed Shazza, without stopping, and she guessed that he was used to having to keep his conversations from others. His face was grim as he said it, and it confirmed her suspicions when she watched Fry enter the skiff.
She believed that, given the means to leave immediately, that Fry would take the skiff and leave them all behind to die out here. Fortunately, the skiff was nowhere near ready to fly; it needed more power, repairs to its wings, and the electrical systems were corroded, which is where she came in. She didn’t ask, she just started, and gave neither Fry nor Johns the chance to tell her to do otherwise, not without being heard by everyone else.
By the time Imam, Jack and Paris had drifted off to find supplies, the electrical system was taken apart and they would just have to wait until Shazza put it back together again. Before Imam left, Johns had him help bring the one power cell into the skiff; it appeared they would need to bring more of those from the crash ship as well. They would need five total to launch.
Johns calmly talked about how they could get Riddick to drag the four remaining power cells through the canyon to the skiff, and Shazza had to bite her tongue. “That Sandcat’s solar; I can probably getting it running.” She didn’t wait for an answer but turned back to the electrical system, her hands tightened into fists at the thought of Riddick being made to pull more things, heavier things, through the canyon. There was no way she would allow that to happen.
Riddick knew what was happening here, that’s why he told her to stay at the skiff, ‘if she could’. It wouldn’t help either of them if she got angry and blew it now. It wouldn’t help Jack. Shazza glanced over at Fry and Johns, their heads together as they continued to talk about what else they would need from the crash ship, and ran through the divisions that were starting to form in their group.
Riddick, herself, and Jack. Imam and the boys? Fry, Johns and Paris had already separated themselves from everyone else. She had been a settler for years, sometimes it felt like forever. Most of the time it meant everyone said ‘fuck it’ to whatever petty problems were in the way at the moment and did what they had to do, but this was a different sort of group altogether.
These weren’t settlers that knew that they had to live with one another when all was said and done; they came from too many different backgrounds, and had too many other things they wanted, or in the case of Riddick had, to do when it was all said and done.
Riddick walked among the abandoned buildings, and looked for material to salvage the skiff’s wings. He knew that much more would be needed before it could get off the ground so he wasn’t too worried about leaving Fry and Johns alone with the ship as they couldn’t leave yet anyway.
Shazza would watch for them as well. That was something that still made him uncomfortable to think about, so he pushed it aside, he just wasn’t ready to think about Shazza. He watched Jack out of the corner of his eye, to make sure that she had listened when he said to stay out of the buildings.
He understood why he felt the need to protect Jack, especially when he realized she was a girl, but his feelings for Shazza left him out of his depth. He was a convict anyway, and it was stupid to think things like that, about things that could never be. They were all stuck here together and for some reason he felt very protective of her but it was best just to leave it at that.
He had walked towards the building without really knowing why; it wasn’t until he got to the doors that he realized he was following the whispers again.
They were higher pitched here, and more excited, but quieter; more like a series of short chirps. It made him think of birds he used to hear as a boy and the thought made him smile; what if they were all worried about a bunch of birds.
Then he remembered Zeke and put the thought of songbirds out of his mind again. The coring room was one of the largest buildings in the settlement, and built sturdier than the rest. He tried the doors, but like so many others he had passed these too were locked from the inside.
An emergency ship still out on the pad; doors locked from the inside; then there were all of the other things he found lying around on the ground, like eyeglasses and other personal effects that people wouldn’t have just left. Something bad had happened to these people; that was obvious, and that something was still here.