The explosion was a plume of black above the forest, leaves and other debris shot through. The one huge burst, and then the volley of smaller explosions as the charges Johns had lain echoed afterward.
There was no way to know how many it had taken. The Company could have sent a few in a few of their own or maybe they sent the rogue villagers in. There was no way to tell from where the Moorglade was. Riddick didn’t think the Company was stupid enough to have everyone enter the ship. All that could be hoped for was that it would take enough and deny the use of the downed ship as any sort of a base of operations.
Riddick pulled Shazza even tighter to him as he dropped to the deck. She didn’t go easily and fought against him in her fright but Riddick held her tightly anyway. His body weighed heavily as the force of the blast swayed the Moorglade slightly in her place above the grass.
“No!” It was a harsh bark as he pressed her into the warm wood of the deck. “Stay still, until it’s over.” Riddick wasn’t entirely sure when that would be but he knew that he wouldn’t let her up until he was sure that she was safe. He felt her warm body beneath him and the deck below that but he thought of the hammerhead planet, the first time he had pinned her down to save her from danger.
Shazza struggled underneath him and he pressed more firmly against her hips. A shudder ran hard through him at the feel of her. He had just told her that he loved her and if the circumstances were different, he would take her hard right there and then to cement that declaration. Or make her forget. He sighed as he stroked through her hair and held her to the deck; they didn’t have that kind of time. Not right now anyway. As he held her he looked down at her strained face and swore that when the time was right he would show her exactly what she made him feel.
They both stopped their struggles when they heard Jack’s short yelp of fright. Riddick spun in place with Shazza held tight to his chest and was on his feet before Jack’s yelp turned into its obligatory string of curses.
Riddick’s hand stayed in contact with Shazza’s hip even as he got up into a low crouch and made for the door to the bridge. Shazza was a step behind them the whole way and entered the bridge right behind him. “Move, Riddick, for fuck’s….” Shazza bit back her own string of curses once she realized that Jack was all right, she had just been startled by the explosion and the sudden uncontrollable shift in the ship.
“Jack!” Riddick’s voice was a hard, authoritative bark that echoed across the bridge. Jack still spat out muttered curses as she struggled to right the course of the Moorglade and Theo worked beside her. Riddick and Shazza shared a look at Jack’s shouted orders interspersed amidst her curses and Shazza stifled her nervous laugh at the look on Riddick’s face. An eyebrow quirked up over his goggles, he looked almost proud of her.
Joanne stood in the corridor to the bridge and tried to hold back Anna. The young girl didn’t curse like Jack but she was just as determined to get onto the bridge and see what was going on. “Mom! I’m fine, now….” Anna broke free and darted across the bridge, her hand shoving Riddick out of her way and wormed her way to stand between Jack and Theo.
Shazza bit her lip at the way the little girl had just shoved past Riddick. It was weird to think of someone like Riddick as a pushover, especially for a little girl. Shazza stayed close to Jack a little longer, her arms around the girl’s shoulders where Riddick had just squeezed once. After a quick look at Theo, Shazza walked up behind Riddick, who squatted down close to Duncan, who also swore and muttered under his breath.
“I’ll tape it up, it’ll be fine.” Duncan ground out between gritted teeth. Johns struggled with Duncan, to keep him on the floor. The fact that Duncan couldn’t throw him off easily pissed him off even more because it showed just how unable he was to continue.
“Not fucking likely. You’re not going anywhere,” Riddick said with a snort as he easily stopped Duncan’s movement with a hand to the injured thigh.
Duncan struggled in a vain attempt to show that he was still mobile. “The Company never would have sent all those men into that ship, Riddick. They’re still out there…”
“So I figured.” Riddick wasn’t at all surprised that Duncan would have the same thoughts about the Company and the way they operated. “Just means there’s a few less of them to hunt down later.”
Duncan huffed against the bulkhead; neither Johns nor Riddick was about to let him get up. Provided that he could get up and even Duncan had to accept that it wasn’t very likely. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in an effort to dispel his anger at being stuck in the position. He hated being helpless. He also knew that being helpless was not the same as being useless.
He let out the breath in a tightly controlled sigh, the anger he felt left with it. “All right. Where would they go next providing there are enough of them left to get out of the forest in one piece?”
Joanne shuffled her feet and swallowed hard; she didn’t want to speak but took a step forward to stand a little closer to Riddick who turned and looked up at her over his shoulder. It only made her feel more nervous than she had before. “Joanne?” He didn’t elaborate, just left her name out there, a question in itself.
Joanne took a quick look at Shazza, at the tiny nod the other woman gave her before she continued. “I don’t know if they have any villagers with them anymore but if they did they might have told them already about the ruins.”
Those on the ship went quiet, even Jack stopped her muttered curses, left the wheel to Theo and came forward to stand over Riddick, her hand on his shoulder. Joanne had the complete attention of everyone and it made her a little afraid.
The silence dragged out before Joanne spoke again, her voice quiet and nervous. “On the other side of the forest…” She pointed with her hands as though everyone would know where. “There are ruins of an ancient castle on the edge of the sea. A lot of it has fallen into nothing but if they reached it they could defend themselves, from us anyway.”
‘Fuck.’ Riddick had wanted to seize the ship, to keep the Company from using it as a base. He didn’t like the idea that they would have even better defenses provided that they could be reached. Riddick held a hand out to Joanne, to silence anything she might say, not that he needed to, and turned again to Duncan.
“Any way those fuckers could call in another Company ship?” Riddick gave Duncan a hard look; after all, if the Company ship hadn’t been called in the first place a lot of this could have been avoided.
Johns closed his eyes, everything in him tensed as he waited for his world to end. Duncan had omitted the detail before; Johns thought it was to protect him. He didn’t know if Duncan would continue but he thought that he would.
So Johns chose to speak instead rather than have Duncan lie to protect him any longer. “The electromagnetic pulse cycles every twenty three to twenty four minutes. If they have a tech officer with them they could conceivably get a signal out.”
Duncan returned the hard looks of Theo and Riddick and his body tensed as he prepared for violence. The realization that he was about to defend Johns to the death if he had to wasn’t lost on him. He had lied, if only by omission, to protect Johns and now he was possibly about to die for him.
Duncan leaned forward as much as he could, as much as Riddick’s hand on his leg would let him, and answered in a hard voice. “He didn’t have a choice, Riddick. If he didn’t get that signal out, Bishop would have killed him.”
Riddick glared once at Johns before he eyed Duncan carefully. Duncan had positioned himself in front of Johns and Riddick recognized that; Duncan was prepared to defend the other man if he had to. Riddick nodded subtly without a word.
What’s done was done. “So we assume they have a way to get a signal out.” Riddick turned to Joanne and asked her quietly so that he wouldn’t scare her any more than she was already. “How far away is this place?”
Joanne licked her lip nervously and stepped forward. “I don’t really know. We traveled by there once. It took us about a week and a half by land but we had Anna and we didn’t go through the forest….”
Theo left the wheel to come up behind Joanne, his hand soothed over her tensed back muscles and she eased instantly. Riddick rose gracefully and took a step closer to her, his hand on her arm. He didn’t know how to be less of a threat to Joanne so he settled for quiet.
Joanne settled and spoke again. “It…it would of course be shorter through the forest, I don’t…”
Riddick asked Joanne quietly, “Could you show us on a map?”
“I’ll get them.” Jack spoke up quickly, and darted across the bridge for Old Thomas’ stack of charts. She brought them back and was about to put them on the nearest clear spot but Riddick crooked a finger at her to lay them on the ground; he wanted Duncan to see them too. Joanne, Theo and Shazza knelt down on the floor of the bridge also so that everyone could see.
Jack unrolled the chart and laid it out in the clear space then got comfortable next to Riddick. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, her thigh against his. She took a minute and looked once over her shoulder at Theo to confirm. “We’re here.” Jack pointed to a spot on the map by the river, the forest, and then turned it towards Joanne a little more.
Joanne unrolled it even more and the rolling grassland became a sea. The forest grew more lush and ran down to the shore; the river ran alongside and widened until it became an expansive delta with several large treed islands in the middle. Joanne traced her fingers over the parchment until she stopped and pointed to the ruins.
Both Duncan and Riddick leaned forward to look closely at the map. Riddick unrolled the map even more and Duncan let out a low hum. The ruins were positioned just off the coast on a small isolated peninsula. It would be easy to guard if the Company reached it. Duncan traced his finger back through the forest to their present location. There was no way to know what they would face in the forest but it would cut a lot of time off the trip to the ruins.
Theo leaned over Joanne’s shoulder and scanned in the route that the Moorglade would have to take to reach the ruins. “What do you think, Jack, a day and a half, two days?” Jack nodded her assent, and traced the route herself.
Riddick took another hard look at Duncan as he scanned the map again. With help the Company men could reach the ruins within a few days. No matter what Joanne said, the Company could cross land far faster than Joanne and her family, it was what they trained for. With rangers it could go even faster.
A knowing look passed between Riddick, Theo and Duncan. Duncan sighed and leaned back against Johns, there was no way that he could go. But someone would have to go, to track the Company men through the forest.
They would have to split up.
“I’ll go.” Johns whispered through the dry cloud of cotton that had formed in his throat. He didn’t want to go, he wasn’t really a merc and he knew it but if Duncan couldn’t do it then someone would have to.
“You can’t, Johns.” Duncan shook his head as he answered, the tiny nod from Riddick set the decision in stone.
Johns was puzzled and looked from Duncan to Riddick. “Why not? You can’t go…”
Duncan leaned against Johns and spoke only to him. “If you get captured they’ll definitely have a way to call down another Company ship.”
Duncan squeezed Johns’ arm briefly before he turned back to Riddick. “That leaves you, Theo.” He paused before he continued, unsure if he should say it. “And Shazza.”
At mention of her name, Shazza stood and moved behind Riddick, her hand on his shoulder. She felt Riddick tense up although nothing outwardly would have shown that he felt anything at all. It was like an electric charge that shot through her arm when she touched him, the tension right under the surface. Her hand caressed over the knot of his shoulder absently until he stilled again.
Behind his goggles, unseen by anyone else, Riddick closed his eyes. He knew that Shazza could handle herself and that three people could fare better than two. That if everything else didn’t matter, that Shazza should come with him. A quick look at Jack and he knew that it did matter.
He didn’t get a chance to turn her down this time. Shazza leaned down and whispered in Riddick’s ear. “Take me with you, you’ll need me.”
Riddick spun in place and was up on his feet before Shazza could utter a yelp. He held her arm and pushed her backwards across the bridge. His anger flared before he could get a handle on it. “No! No fucking way….”
Shazza stopped when her back hit the bulkhead and she was afraid for a brief moment as she looked at Riddick’s furious face. Then she got pissed off and pulled her arm out of Riddick’s grasp. It didn’t matter, if Riddick wanted to grab her again he would. But he didn’t even though Shazza could see him fight it. “No.” She said simply.
Her voice shook as she spoke; an enraged Riddick was a thought that would terrify most people, but she continued. “You need me, Riddick.” Shazza’s voice dropped an octave as she leaned closer to him. “If the Company manages to get another ship down here, it’s over for all of us and that INCLUDES Jack. It would be best if they never got anywhere near that ruined fortress, if they died out there in the forest. Take me with you, Riddick, it’s not like there are many options here.”
Riddick pushed her farther, into the relative darkness of the corridor before he took his goggles off and glared at her. He was angrier than he had been in a long time. And aroused. It wasn’t often that someone stood up to him, fought with him once he had made a decision. That it would be Shazza made him harden instantly. It wasn’t lost on her; she flushed as she met his eyes, that blaze of heat shared between them.
He leaned in to kiss her fiercely, a deep and violent kiss that had them both taste blood. He didn’t answer her, but he didn’t have to.
Copyright © February 2007 xxxevilgrinxxx