- Fix It
- Science Fiction
Since she didn’t even know where to start in tackling the implications of that kiss, Carolyn decided to focus instead on Riddick’s initial words. Could she really be so blind? Who was Johns really?
Shutting down the shuttle, she got Johns’s direction from Suleiman and Hassan, who were playing some mysterious game involving rocks and bones.
Carolyn entered the building to see Johns inserting a needle into the corner of his eye. Depressing the syringe, he winced and then relaxed with a full body sigh. She could feel the flush of euphoria and relief as the drugs flooded his system.
“So who are you really?” The feelings of apathy and disdain she felt from him at her question hurt. “You’re not a cop, are you?”
“I never said I was.”
His open box of ammunition showed the casings to be mostly full of drugs and needles instead of bullets. Being so wrong about him made her feel stupid. “No, you didn’t.” She’d created this whole persona of him out of assumptions and desperation-fueled dreams. She’d considered bonding with him and he probably didn’t even know she was a Guide. He probably wouldn’t care even if he did know. He wasn’t suppressed, he was dormant. Selfish and corrupt. “You never said you were a hype either.”
“Some people wake up with caffeine, some with morphine. So what?”
“So what?! Those drugs could’ve helped Owens so he didn’t have to die like that!”
Johns looked at her with eyes void of empathy or care. “Owens was already dead, his brain just hadn’t caught up to it yet.”
Jaw and hands clenching, she wanted to lash out but realized that nothing she said or did would make a lick of difference. She didn’t matter to him. Johns saw her, saw them all as just tools to be used and discarded for his own agenda. No wonder he’d gone dormant.
“Is there anything else I should know about you? Besides the fact that you’re not suppressed, you’re dormant?”
Surging to his feet unexpectedly, Johns grabbed her hand and shoved it up the back of his shirt, pressing her fingers hard against a ropey scar on his lower back. “Do you feel that? Last time I went after Riddick, he went for the sweet spot and missed. They had to leave a piece inside. I can still feel it, Carolyn, scraping against my spine. During that hunt my Sentinel gifts deserted me, making suppressants pointless. As a mundane, you have no idea how that feels. The loss of my gifts is a constant ache, just like that knife tip is a constant ache, so maybe you should leave the care and feeding of my nerve endings to me.” Being so close to him, feeling his emotions pressing against her, filled her with revulsion.
Releasing her hand, he shoved her away. “And since the source of your new attitude is obvious, here’s some advice. Be careful in how you buddy-up to Riddick. I’ve caught Riddick rubbing a lock of bright blond hair across his lips, smelling it. Two guesses who’s hair it was. He’s fixating on you, has probably spent days planning just how he’s going to kill you. Remember that when choosing your allies.”
Gritting her teeth, she met his eyes. “Anything else I should know about you?”
“Yeah, look to thine own ass first, right? You’d know all about that.” The memory of her confession about trying to purge the passengers hung between them.
“Captain! Captain!” Two excited young voices broke their stare-off as Suleiman and Hassan burst into the room.
“I’m not your Captain,” she snarled guiltily, pivoting on her heel and stalking outside, only to stumble to a stop on seeing the sky dominated by a ringed planet slowly moving to eclipse the three suns. For the first time, the everpresent sunlight began to dim.
Imam said something at her back but she was in too much shock to listen. Why couldn’t this cursed place ever give her a freaking break?
Shazza stepped up next to her. “If we need anything from the crash ship, I suggest we kick on. That sand cat’s solar.”
“We still need those power cells.” Carolyn told herself to suck it up and keep dealing. Raising her voice, she called out, “Shazza’s right. We’ve got to go now, people! Back to the ship for the cells! Get a move on!”
Hopping into the sandcat, she saw Riddick, face raised to watch the eclipse, put the mouthpiece of the oxygen line Shazza had given him all those days ago into his mouth and breathe in deep three times. Canister now empty, he took the loop of tubing off his shoulder and tossed it aside into the dirt. Meeting her eyes with an enigmatic look of his face, he turned away and left at a jog, presumably to grab something around the corner of the building.
The sandcat roared to life and began to pull away from the settlement. Riddick jumped onto the back, followed by Johns. With everyone on board, they roared through the canyon leading to the ship, knocking down bones in their haste.
The sky dimmed much quicker than anyone expected. Just as they almost reached the ship, the sandcat sputtered and died. Shazza stayed with it to try and find a way to keep it running despite the lack of solar power. Paris ran for the far section of ship where his alcohol was stashed while Carolyn jumped out to begin pulling out the power cells.
Standing up on the sandcat, Riddick stared out into the gathering darkness towards the stone chimneys. He seemed mesmerized as he slid up his goggles.
They didn’t have time to waste stargazing. Irritated, Carolyn cast a glance over her shoulder and faltered. She felt the blood draining from her face. Thousands of those creatures who’d eaten Zeke and almost killed her were bursting out of the stone chimneys and up into the sky. Their screeches echoed through the air as they swirled through the air and arrowed towards the crashed ship, towards Carolyn and the passengers.
Paris cupped his hands around his mouth from the door of the storage locker. “People, just a suggestion, perhaps you should flee!”
Cursing, haunted by thoughts of being torn into pieces for the ravenous creatures overhead, Carolyn ran for shelter. Thankfully it was downhill. Johns outpaced her, leaping to safety past Paris. Grabbing the doorframe, Carolyn pivoted to make sure everyone else made it before they closed the doors. Jack arrived next, followed closely by Imam and his boys. Unfortunately, Riddick and Shazza were still running when the flock of creatures reached them.
“Get down!” she cried, heart in her throat.
They dived onto their fronts in the sand and the creatures swooped over their heads, disappearing into the gathering darkness.
Shazza’s terror and desperation hammered at Carolyn’s shields. In contrast, Riddick was focused and almost supernaturally calm. Shazza pushed up onto her arms and looked around, not seeing anything. Riddick lifted his head and then flattened himself again.
“Stay down,” Carolyn called, but she could feel that Shazza was too scared to listen.
The dark haired woman gulped in a breath and jumped to her feet. She’d taken a single step when Riddick threw the shiv in his hand. It smacked Shazza in the small of the back hard and bounced off, sending her sprawling face-first into the sand. A flock of creatures appeared where she’d just been standing, snapping razor-sharp teeth and zipping over the crashed ship with blood-curdling screeches.
The cries became more distant as the air momentarily cleared. Riddick rose to his feet and strode past the downed Shazza without a glance, reaching the ship a second later. Raising her head to spit out sand, Shazza scrambled up and ran to join them. As soon as she reached them they closed the doors and locked them shut.
Gulping back sobs, Jack grabbed Shazza around the waist in a tight hug. Shazza winced and adjusted Jack’s arms higher, her left jaw swelling from where she’d hit the ground face-first. She looked sourly at Riddick. “You couldn’t have just said duck?”
Riddick glanced at her sardonically. “I was being efficient,” he drawled. “Now we’re even for the O2. Next time, I won’t bother.”
Carolyn could tell that he meant it. His coldness chilled her. She never wanted to become like him and Johns, not caring about or trusting other people, thinking only of herself.
Creatures thumped and rattled around the exterior of the ship. Their alien emotions pressed at her like the scent of rotting food. Swallowing, she thickened her mental shields and blocked as much of it as she could. Thicker shields took concentration, but they served the added benefit of blocking her companions’ fear and despair.
The survivors gathered up as many sources of light as they could find and retreated to a more secure section with fewer holes in the hull as creatures began to sneak inside the ship. Things were looking dire, but Carolyn refused to give up hope. She refused to die here.
Everyone started pulling open boxes and crates, trying to find more light sources and anything else to increase their chances of survival. It was hard work, sifting through mostly useless gear from people who’d never come to claim it, people who’d already died in the crash. While the rest of them sweated like pigs from strain and terror, Riddick kept to the periphery, ignoring any orders he didn’t feel like obeying, which included most of them. Shazza had turned the three boys into her own personal work crew, keeping them in line and snapping at anyone who tried to stop working or sneak off.
One of the creatures almost skewered Riddick and then Johns almost shot Riddick in the confusion, but the creature Johns killed revealed skin that blistered in the light of his rifle. Light hurt them. It was a weakness they could exploit. The search for light became even more urgent.
When the last crate had been searched through they piled their loot into the center of the room and sat down to plan. Johns no longer bothered trying to work with her, putting down all of her suggestions and trying to convince everyone to hunker down and wait. Unfortunately, she and Imam were both convinced from the solar system model that the eclipse would be a lasting darkness. They’d run out of food long before the return of the suns.
Frustrated with Johns and his useless plans, Carolyn set forth her plan to take all the lights they’d found with them as protection and drag the power cells to the shuttle to get the hell off this planet asap. The infuriating argument that caused culminated in her losing her temper and calling Johns a gutless coward in front of the entire group. Johns snapped and drew his gun, causing Riddick to stand up and pull his knife on him in a stalemate.
With her shields so tight she wasn’t sure if Riddick had been protecting her or just trying to screw over Johns. Maybe it was better not to know. She didn’t need more reasons to appreciate and depend on the enigmatic Sentinel. That way lay a world of hurt. She refused to fall for Riddick.
However, she was going to have to depend on Riddick if they were going to get those power cells back to the ship. He was the only one who could see in the dark.
Realizing they had no other choice if they wanted to survive, the group rigged up all of their lights, put the power cells on a sled with tethers, and began the dangerous trek through the dark towards the shuttle.
Carolyn thought her plan might actually work until a group of creatures decided to test the boundaries of the light and Paris panicked, crawling away and breaking their largest source of light in the process. Paris died in the dark. The survivors lit Johns’ flares and the bottles of alcohol they’d converted into oil torches and marched on, grimly following in Riddick’s wake.
Until they crossed their own tracks.
Riddick had circled to buy time because the canyon was full of creatures and the scent of Jack bleeding—turned out Jack was actually a girl just starting her cycle—was calling to the creatures like a dinner bell.
Overwhelmed, Carolyn swallowed her pride and admitted she’d been wrong, that coming out here was a mistake. She couldn’t let everyone be eaten because of her plan.
Johns chose that moment to reverse and argue for continuing on. They started ripping into each other verbally. Carolyn was holding her own and even starting to win with the others until Johns told them all what she’d done— that she’d tried to blow the passenger cabin and kill them all to save herself.
The horror and betrayal of the others hammered at her mental shields and, combined with her guilt, sent her launching a wild swing at Johns’s smug face. He side-stepped her attack with contemptuous ease and watched with cold satisfaction as she fell to her hands and knees. She felt so small, so ashamed.
Hurt but also full of compassion, Imam helped her to her feet and got everyone following after Johns, who’d moved up to walk next to Riddick.
“I’m sorry,” Carolyn told the rest of them. “I made a mistake. I’ve done my best since to make up for it. I’m doing my best to get everyone left out of here alive.”
Eyes flinty, Shazza gave her a choppy nod and looked away, yanking the back of Jack’s shirt to bring him—her in closer to the center of the group. “I don’t like it but I understand it. Keep working to keep us alive and when we get back up into the black I’ll forgive you.”
“What are they talking about up there?” Jack asked with a quaver in her voice.
Blowing out her breath, Carolyn looked up ahead at Johns and Riddick and felt a foreboding. She thinned her shields and shuddered at the emotions coming from that direction. Johns felt positively bloodthirsty and Riddick unwillingly protective and scrambling to justify it as a value proposition.
“Slow down,” she told everyone curtly. “Just a little more space between us and them.”
Between one beat and the next the two men went from talking to trying to kill each other. Bullets flew wildly from Johns’ gun and Carolyn made a split second decision. “Abandon the sled! Get to cover!” She herded everyone back in the opposite direction and away from the violence.
Unsure what to do to salvage the situation, she did her best to keep everyone huddled in the light and moving back towards where she thought the ship was located.
Suddenly Riddick loomed up in front of them out of the darkness. “Back to the ship?” She didn’t have to ask to know that Johns was dead.
Jack wasn’t so perceptive. “Where’s Johns?”
“Which half,” Riddick asked meanly.
Flinching back, Jack blinked back tears.
Riddick looked annoyed. “He died fast.” Looking up, he met Carolyn’s eyes. “If we have any choice about it, that’s the way we should all go out.”
She nodded, thanking him silently. She’d felt Johns’s emotions just before the fight broke out. By killing Johns, Riddick had protected Jack, had protected all of them. Even if no one else understood, she wanted him to know that she did.
Her gratitude and understanding seemed to annoy him even more.
Stalking past Jack on his way back up to the front, he growled at the girl, “Don’t you cry for Johns. Don’t you dare.”
Riddick was distracted by a question from Shazza before he could say anything worse.
Keeping the children between the three adults and with Riddick pulling all four cells by himself, they ran forward into the canyon. “Go faster!” Riddick cried. The creatures were everywhere, flying overhead, fighting and eating each other, crawling through the bones. “Keep moving!” Even with their torches their presence attracted more and more of the creatures. “Keep moving!”
Despite carrying all of the weight, Riddick slowly pulled ahead of them.
“Slow down! Riddick!” Jack cried after him. Riddick didn’t listen.
While she was distracted staring after him, Suleiman was almost grabbed by a creature. The boy screamed and dropped his alcohol torch, breaking it with a burst of flame that made the creature hesitate. Shouting, Imam, Shazza, and Hussan managed to drive it back and pull Suleiman away quickly enough that he only lost part of his pants instead of his entire leg.
“Wait!” Jack called after Riddick.
“We need to go faster!” Carolyn cried. If they didn’t get out of this bottleneck soon they were all going to get killed.
No sooner had she thought that then Jack was pounced on by a creature hiding overhead in the spine of the great beast they crawled under. A vertebrae fell, shielding Jack from the creature’s frenetic head butting. Jack screamed.
Riddick’s pace stuttered and slowed. His head dropped… but he didn’t turn back.
Screaming a battle cry, angry at Riddick, angry at this entire planet, Carolyn charged at the creature battering to get to Jack. “Get off her!” She was not losing anyone else. Not on her watch. Carolyn swiped at it with her torch, wishing she had a gun or knife. The creature lashed at her with its tail, making her stumble back, and continued fighting to get to Jack. Carolyn found her feet and pressed forward again. “Get off her!” Its skin sizzled beneath the light and heat of her torch but the creature ignored the pain, too fixated on the scent of Jack’s blood.
Suddenly Riddick was there. Grabbing the creature, he flung it off Jack, twisted, and snapped its neck. He looked up and their eyes met and caught. She felt enthralled by his power and embraced by his protection. It was a heady feeling. Riddick seemed on the cusp of saying or doing something momentous.
“Keep going, don’t stop now!” Shazza cried, pushing past her to help Jack up and breaking their connection.
Carolyn could feel Riddick pulling back from whatever he’d been about to do. Thinning her shields, she felt him struggling against a traitorous warmth and pride in himself at protecting them. He’s also angry at himself for helping, for caring. Yet it felt good and right to be a protector. He’s confused and doesn’t like that feeling either.
The HUNGER FIGHT BREED EAT HUNGER of the alien creatures became too uncomfortable so she closed down her shields and returned to focusing on putting one step in front of the other.
As they fought their way up the nearest slope, Riddick once more pulling ahead, a freezing rain began to fall from the sky. Within seconds they were drenched. Their torches sputtered and died, only Jack’s staying lit where she and Shazza huddled over it against the canyon wall.
Horrible laughter burst from Riddick’s chest, dark and morbid. The light and confusion in his heart extinguished and a cold, hard practicality took its place. “Where’s your God now?” he asked Imam. She could feel him purposely not looking in her direction.
“Are we almost there? Just tell me the settlement’s right there!” Carolyn cried, needing good news, needing him to once more turn a warm look her way in the face of the freezing rain.
“We’re not going to make it.” He said quietly before casting his eyes around at the surrounding walls of high stone.
Racing forward, he grabbed a stone slab and heaved, revealing a small cave. “In here, now! Hide here!”
The three children scrambled inside, followed by Imam, Shazza, and Carolyn. She turned to ask him what next only to see the slab being heaved back into place, trapping them inside without him.
“Why’s he still out there?” Shazza asked, tired and bewildered.
Carolyn felt frozen.
“Come,” Imam said softly, “let us combine the alcohol into the one torch to keep the light burning as long as possible.”
Firming her lips, Carolyn moved forward to help. As the minutes passed and the torch burned lower and lower, hope slowly died.
“He’s not comin’ back… is he?” Jack asked, only saying what Carolyn had long since figured out herself.
As the fire went out, the cave went black. Exhausted, overwhelmed, Carolyn thought she was imagining it at first when a blue light slowly illuminated the faces of her companions.
Then Suleiman jumped to his knees and pointed up. “Look!” The cave walls were covered with glowing blue bugs.
Scraping the label off a glass bottle, they filled it with every glowing bug they could find, creating a new kind of light. However, there were only enough bugs for one bottle. They couldn’t get six people to the shuttle with only one bottle.
“I’ll go,” Shazza said. “I’ll go and—and force Riddick to come back with me with more light.”
Jack looked up in hope, but Carolyn seriously doubted Shazza could get Riddick to do anything he didn’t want to do. Then again, Carolyn didn’t have that power either.
Nevertheless—“No, I’ll do it. I’m the captain.” And she’d rather die out there alone and on her feet than huddled in here with the people she’d failed.
Running through the canyon and dark settlement with only a glowing blue bottle was a nightmare, but Carolyn used her empathy to avoid the largest congregations of creatures and fought her way through to reach the lights of the ship.
Riddick stared at her in shock through the windshield. He really had written them all off for dead. He’d been going to leave her, leave them all here to save himself.
And she couldn’t even get too mad because a part of her completely understood why now that she’d reached the safety of the lit shuttle and faced going back out into the dark. But he had to see reason and help her. He had to help her get the others here too.
Lowering the ramp, Riddick walked out to stare down at her in the mud and rain. Goggles hiding those silver eyes, he gave her a complicated look. Expression becoming a mask, he called out, “Strong survival instinct. I admire that in a woman.”
She didn’t know how to react to that. “I promised to go back for them with more light.”
Riddick hummed thoughtfully. “That’s nice.” Otherwise he didn’t move.
Acid surged up her throat. He wasn’t going to make this easy. Jerking up her chin, she attacked. “What, are you afraid?”
He laughed, the sound of scorn almost hiding his discomfort. “Of what?”
Instead of what she’d meant to say, something about alien creatures and teeth the size of cockpit control sticks, she found herself saying, “Of caring, of being part of a Tribe again.”
All humor dropped from Riddick’s face. “That is not my Tribe.” A thought made his lips quirk and he leaned an arm against the side of the shuttle. “To be honest, even if I did want a tribe, I wouldn’t know how to start.”
“With helping me now. Help me save them.”
For a moment he stared at her thoughtfully. Then he gave a slow shake of his head and he angled his body away. “It won’t work.”
“Then give me light and I’ll go back for them,” she demanded wildly, hoping to break through to him somehow.
“Okay.” Lifting his light belt, he tossed it at her feet. At least four of the six bulbs were cracked and blackened. She wondered if it broke on accident or he did it on purpose to keep himself from being tempted to go help. It was useless. She needed him.
“Please, just come with me,” she begged him.
“How about this,” he said, stepping closer down the ramp. “Come with me instead. Those people aren’t your Tribe. Come inside and let’s close the ramp and get out of this place, explore our chemistry in comfort, safety, and privacy.” A sensually cruel smile curved his lips, tempting her, tempting her fiercely.
Carolyn hugged arms around herself. Swallowed. “You’re messing with me. I know you are. I can’t.”
Riddick’s expression went cold. “You don’t know me. I will leave you here. Come with me. Now.”
“I—I can’t.” Carolyn sank to her hands and knees in the mud. “I can’t.”
“No one would blame you for saving yourself. Here, I’ll help.” Riddick holds out a hand to her and, when she looks at it helplessly but doesn’t take it, comes down and around her back to help lift her up onto the ramp where she starts climbing the ramp on her knees.
Shakily she pushes herself to her feet. Safety is so close. It’s right there in that lit cabin. She just needs to move forward to be done with this. She’ll live.
Carolyn and Riddick will be the only ones who live. She wavers, picturing the faces of the people waiting on her back in the cave, picturing them and the other passengers sleeping trustingly in their cryobeds when she pulled the lever to purge them while crash landing. The feel of that lever jerking in her hand is something she’s never going to forget. Nor will she ever forget the shame.
She can’t pull that lever again. She won’t. He won’t tempt her. She won’t. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. They’re Guide and Sentinel, meant to protect others with their gifts. She’s better than that. He’s better than that.
Filling her lungs with air, she turned and jumped at Riddick with a cry of righteous rage, knocking him flat on his back. “Now you! You listen to me, Sentinel Richard B. Riddick!” she shouted in his face. “I am your Captain and Guide! And I say we are not leaving anyone on this rock to die, even if that means—”
Looking shocked and betrayed, Riddick flipped her over in the mud and slid her body beneath his, pressing his knife to her neck.
Carolyn’s too worked up to be scared of him anymore. This is too important and at some point she’d apparently decided he doesn’t want to hurt her. That trust may get her killed but she’s too exhausted to fight with both herself and him at the same time. “Get that off my neck!”
“Shut up!” he barked, features twisting with a maelstrom of emotions.
Biting her tongue, she glared at him, blinking rain out of her eyes.
“You’d die for them?” he demanded unexpectedly.
She still didn’t want to die, but—“I’d try for them.” Living with herself meant being able to live with her actions. She couldn’t throw these people away again, not without trying her best to save them.
Disappointment stained Riddick’s face and emotions. “That’s not what I asked.” He stared into her face, searching for something, maybe for the answers he needed to rejoin the rest of humanity. “No lies.”
How frustrating must it be for a Sentinel who could detect lies to always be lied to? To be constantly used and betrayed as he must’ve been? Would it teach you to stop caring for others? To stop seeking for a Tribe because no one you met would protect you the way your instincts urged you to protect them?
And did he see a light of redemption for himself in her journey? A Guide who’d gone from being willing to kill a ship full of strangers to keep herself alive to being willing to risk her life to save just a handful of those same passengers? Carolyn didn’t know how to show him how to care for others when she herself was so flawed, but damned if she didn’t want to try. Saving the passengers meant saving him too, even from himself.
“Yes, I would.” She sucked in a breath and felt peace fill her soul. “I would die for them. I would have them as Tribe. I would use my Gifts to protect them.”
R pulled off his goggles and examined her intently, a look that swept over her skin and penetrated to her very soul. She met his gaze unflinchingly. Finally he gave a faint nod and leaned back. “How interesting.”
With Riddick by her side, she made her way back to the others without dying. Feeling their emotions soar at their return she used the sweetness of the moment to emotionally imprint on each of them, cementing their status in her mind as Tribe. If she lost someone on the way back to the shuttle it would hurt, but she would not let fear or pain hold her back. Their emotional strength gave her renewed energy.
Together, her Tribe fought their way back to settlement. With monsters circling above and on every side it became a mad dash of terror and exertion, but at last they made it to the blazing shuttle. “On board now! C’mon! Up the ramp!” The tribe she’d claimed—Shazza, Jack, Imam, Suleiman, and Hassan—had all survived. She’d gotten all of them to safety. She’d done it.
Except someone was still missing, a very important someone.
When she looked out into the darkness from the safety of the shuttle ramp, no footsteps splashed in the distance. She saw no silver glint in the dark. Riddick hadn’t made it back. Last she’d seen of him, he’d turned to keep the monster on their tail from attacking while everyone else ran ahead to safety.
For countless minutes she stared out at the rain and mud, straining her eyes, ears, and empathy for signs of the Sentinel. Nothing reached her but the creature’s ravenous and all-consuming HUNGER.
“He’s not coming,” Shazza said from the shuttle ramp. She stood with her arm around Jack’s shoulders. Dropping her head to Shazza’s chest, Jack started to cry.
Riddick wasn’t part of their Tribe. He didn’t want or need Carolyn’s protection. He didn’t want to be her or any other Guide’s Sentinel. And yet….
If there was even a chance he still lived out in that hellish night, she couldn’t leave him. Would not leave him. They hadn’t bonded, but their souls had kissed just as surely as their lips had. Her universe would be a much darker place without him alive and thriving in it. She couldn’t believe he was dead. Wouldn’t she know if he was? Wouldn’t she sense his spiritual sheen on the astral plane go dull and grey?
Her fingers started to cramp around the glowing blue bottle still clutched in one hand. The rear shuttle light strobed, carving paths of light in the darkness that failed to reveal the man she was looking for. She was the one supposed to be risking her life for everyone, not Riddick. It wasn’t fair.
“Come,” Imam said softly. She could sense his regret over Riddick’s loss, the ache of losing Ali, and urgency to leave this cursed place and find a way to release his pain to his God.
“I can’t. Not yet. I’m a Guide and Riddick… he was a Sentinel,” Carolyn confessed, blinking back tears in the rain. “My—my compatible Sentinel.”
“Bloody hell,” Shazza breathed in shock. “What a thing.”
Imam stepped to the edge of the ramp and gestured her over. “Then we shall honor both his sacrifice as our Protector and your loss once we are safe. Come, Carolyn. We must leave.”
Breathing ragged, heart hurting, she felt the pull of her Tribe. They needed her. She started to turn her back on the cold dark night when something on the astral plane clawed for her attention. Carolyn jerked back around. From the settlement echoed a faint cry of anger and pain.
Carolyn bolted into the night. Holding the glowing blue bottle aloft, she frantically searched the shadows. “Riddick? Riddick!” Turning around a corner, she searched the stacked boxes for signs of her Sentinel. “Riddick!”
Something fell out of the shadows to her right, knocking over boxes with a clatter. She swung her shining bottle around and found him. Riddick. Bloody wounds covered his back and arms. A cut on his scalp coated his ear in bright red blood and a wicked slice across his thigh kept him from standing upright. Knife and arm coated in pale blue blood, he grimly hung onto the side of a crate and looked at her blankly. She could tell that his Sentinel senses were giving him trouble, overwhelmed at last.
Despite all that he was one of the most beautiful sights she’d ever seen. Carolyn reached out for him and pulled him into her arms. He collapsed against her body. “Okay, you’re okay,” she told him, trying to lift his dead weight. “We’re gonna get out of here. Hold onto me.” Riddick tried to push up with his good leg and slipped, knocking them both down into the slippery mud. A strangled moan escaped his throat. She could feel his agony and utter exhaustion. “Okay, I’ve got you. Get up. Up!”
When he didn’t move, she instinctively reached out for him with her empathy. “Let me in.” When she rammed up against his silver shields, locked tightly closed, she shook him and growled in his ear, “Richard!” Blinking, his shields thinned enough to let her slip inside.
Not letting herself think of consequences or the scintillating beauty of his mind, she scooped up half of his pain like she’d done for a dying Owens and swallowed it down. His pain burned like acid. It helped that he was a Sentinel with a native connection to the astral plane, but without even a tribal bond between them the strain proved to be too much. As she fell out of his mind clutching his burning pain to herself stubbornly, her last thought was to snap a mental kick upside his spirit, aligning his Sentinel Senses back into place.
“Now get up!” Carolyn coughed and fought to keep her feet beneath the pain now bubbling through her mind. Her gifts felt strained and pitted but not burned out. Not like last time. She hurt, but pain was nothing new. Taking on Riddick’s burdens was easier than with a mundane like Owens. Or maybe it was that they were compatible to bond as Sentinel to Guide. Whatever the case, she’d have to figure it out later. They still weren’t safe. She yanked on Riddick’s body. “If I can carry half, so can you. Focus your senses and get up! Up!”
Abruptly surging to his feet, Riddick gasped and swayed, clutching at her body and fighting to stay upright as he buried his face in her shoulder. His skin radiated heat in the dark chill of the rain. He lifted his head from her neck, blinked, and focused, looking into her face as if finally realizing what was going on. She felt a tingle as all his enhanced senses focused on her.
“Let’s move. Come on.” She strained to keep his slippery body upright and began moving them towards the shuttle. “I said I’d die for them, not you.”
Lips parting, Riddick stared at her as if having a revelation. She could feel the handle of his shiv pressing uncomfortably against her spine where he clutched at her waist. Maybe she should be worried about how close that knife was to her sweet spot, but she wasn’t. She didn’t fear him anymore.
“That’s…” he paused to swallow, “a lie.” He held her gaze, not letting her look away, inadvertently revealing his heart as he searched her face.
Empathic shields still thin and her control wobbly, Carolyn found herself seeing deep into the core of his soul. Beyond the scars and pain she found strength, beauty, and honor. She couldn’t help the compulsion that made her drop her mental shields and reach for him anymore than she could resist the compulsion to risk her life coming back to save him.
She wasn’t sure who was more shocked when her mind sank into his mental embrace like a ship coming into dock. Before she could think to retreat, his Sentinel gifts snapped up and curved around her mind in what felt at first like a trap… until she realized he’d surrounded her in what was clearly a protective and possessive mental dome. He’d pulled her indecently close and was on the verge of making it permanent. She’s not sure he even realizes what he’s doing, but he’s initiating a permanent bonding.
In that moment she knows she can resist. That everyone would expect her to resist and break free.
She doesn’t want to.
Because at that moment, Carolyn realizes that she loves him, loves him completely, flaws and all. She doesn’t hide the feeling. She lets it swamp out the pain and fill her face. She projects love from her spirit.
Riddick—Richard—seems stunned. Overcome. The slight widening of his eyes comes a second before the silver embrace of his mental presence freezes. He’s seized control of his instincts and realized what he’s doing in pulling her so intimately close on the astral plane. He doesn’t trust it. Maybe he still doesn’t want it.
It doesn’t change how she feels.
She can feel Riddick struggling to understand and trust in her love, scared and trying to reject her caring as a lie but failing with the proof of her actions in coming back to save him. Eyes narrowing, he pressed roughly against her mind, searching for deception. She doesn’t let herself hide anything from him, not her pain, not her flaws, and not the truth of her love.
Riddick’s chest heaved, struggling for air as he searched her eyes for answers he’d already felt from her soul.
It’s such a profound moment of connection that she barely notices the talons clenching down on her arms until she’s ripped sharply from his body and up into the sky. The pain slicing through her felt almost secondary to the emotional pain as the meld with Riddick’s mind rips from hers, leaving her reeling as the unfinished bond withers away. She sees a glimpse of Riddick splashing forward onto the ground before she loses sight of him in the dark.
Carolyn’s shields are still wide open. She’s in the black sky, blind, about to be eaten by a creature of nightmare. Sliding across the creature’s emotions felt like reaching into a vat of rotting flesh. She didn’t want to do it but it was her only chance to survive. Cutting off the screams she hadn’t realized she was making, she forced herself to probe the creature’s emotions and try to forge a link. Her first two attempts slid off its mind but she forced herself to keep trying. Finally she connected with its inner self.
HUNGER. EXCITEMENT. EAT NOW. The creature lunged down to take a bite of her leg but she tucked her head tight against the leathery limb dug into her arm and swung her legs back so it couldn’t reach. The creature jerked her to the side in anger, dislocating both of her shoulders and digging its claws in even deeper.
Carolyn screamed. She fought for focus. She had to focus or she was dead. Sobbing and desperate, she blasted feelings of FRIEND at the animal holding her captive.
Body stuttering, the creature swooped lower, putting agonizing strain on her shoulders and pierced flesh. FOOD it decided after a few moments of incomprehension. Carolyn despairingly remembered that these things were cannibalistic and unlikely to form personal bonds.
NOT SAFE she pushed next, barely hanging on to consciousness. If she passed out, she’d never wake up again.
DOWN. ALONE. SAFE. EAT. The monster angled down towards a corner formed by two buildings. HUNGRY. No other creatures seemed to be around.
Just before they could land, she felt HUNGER rapidly approaching from above. Crying out desperately, she tucked up her arms and legs. Sharp claws scraped across her calf and slid off. The creature holding her screamed and jolted as PAIN filled its thoughts, followed by feelings of MINE and FIGHT. Both creatures shrieked and the air filled with splatters of blue blood and VIOLENCE.
The claws piercing her shoulders abruptly released. She dropped through the air and landed hard on a rooftop, rolling. The roof cracked beneath the impact of her body and dumped her onto the floor of a building. The pieces above fell together to form a precarious new boundary between the floor and sky.
Unable to breathe after the impacts, she was paralyzed for several moments. Finally she found enough energy to suck in air and force herself to roll over… or at least she tried. Her arms wouldn’t work and rolling onto the open wounds on her shoulder caused her body to seize with pain. She convulsed and the motion forced one of her shoulders to pop back into its socket. Fighting to stay conscious, she flopped onto her back and focused on breathing and not throwing up. If she threw up and passed out she’d asphyxiate on her own vomit.
Expecting teeth to tear her apart at any moment, Carolyn looked around and found the room faintly illuminated. In the opposite corner a faint light strobed from a high window. The shuttle lights must be in line with the building. If she could just get to the shuttle she’d be safe, but the light was dim enough that this must be one of the far buildings. Of course, Carolyn couldn’t even use her arms, much less stand up. The shuttle could be just outside the door and it would still be an impossible distance.
Sobbing for breath, unable to just give up when she’d fought so hard for so long to live, Carolyn feebly pushed against the dirty floor with her feet, dragging her body inch by inch until her head hit the wall. Somehow she got herself up onto her knees. Spots danced in front of her eyes but she ignored them, forcing her body to crawl along the gritty wall until she could wedge herself into the faintly lit corner.
Panting through clenched teeth, she wondered if the light was bright enough to protect her from being eaten. Hot blood dripped down her icy-cold skin and slowly pooled in the crooks of her elbows. The scent would soon draw something hungry enough to risk a little burn. Of course, Riddick would be reaching the shuttle any second now and taking the lights away with him. Death at that point was guaranteed.
With surprise, she realized that she didn’t regret giving her life to save the passengers. And she didn’t regret going back a second time to save Riddick. No, she definitely didn’t regret saving the man who might’ve been her Sentinel.
What she regretted was not taking him up on that offer in the shuttle to let him glut his senses on her body until they both passed out from pleasure. She also regretted giving those creatures the satisfaction of eating her body. Maybe she’d get lucky and the backwash from the shuttle engines would set the settlement on fire and immolate her body too. One could only hope. That or that she’d bleed to death before they got to her with teeth and claws.
Something outside the building rattled. Her time was up. She didn’t bother trying to connect to the mind of the creature outside, didn’t have the empathic energy to even try. She was spent. Besides, she didn’t want to feel its sick anticipation and pleasure when it started to eat her.
Unfortunately she was also too drained to erect shields. As the door slammed open she was hit with a wash of feral RAGE. The emotion was so powerful it knocked her mentally sideways. She blacked out.
When she came back to consciousness what felt like only a few moments later, she opened her eyelids and found a blurry blue monster crouched in front of her. She tried to raise her arms in defense, but before she could do more than tense, the sharp pain made her whimper and abort the motion. Dark spots swam in front of her eyes, threatening to drop her back into the abyss.
The monster gave a bass growl. Glass clattered onto the floor. Calloused hands reached out and pressed her wrists to her thighs, keeping her wounded arms still. The press of skin on skin brought a feeling like an electrical jolt, bringing her clarity and clearing her eyes.
It wasn’t a blue monster, at least not an animal one. “Richard?” It was a human monster with a glowing blue bottle of bugs. It was her monster. Carolyn relaxed. The bottle of bugs dimmed as it rolled into the yellow light of the shuttle coming in through the window.
Blinking, she realized that Riddick being here meant he had come after her instead of getting himself safe to the shuttle. She frowned. “Why?” Her throat felt raw from screaming. She swallowed to wet it.
Instead of answering, he lowered his head and breathed hotly against the delicate tracery of veins in her wrist, running his nose up her forearm and leaving warmth behind on her icy skin. A strange energy flowed from him and soaked into her body. She’d never felt anything like it before. The Sentinel seemed to be running on primitive instincts more than logic right now. He must’ve gone feral at seeing her taken. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. If he’d died while tracking her down, her sacrifice would’ve been for nothing.
Pausing at the crook of her elbow, he lapped at the blood that had pooled there, dragging his tongue up the red lines on her arms until only clean skin remained. It felt strangely nice. Caring. But then his tongue moved up to lick clean the wounds on her upper arms and shoulders. It burned like acid.
“Stop!” she choked out, trying and failing to get away from him.
He growled and pulled her closer.
Her breath sobbed in and out of her chest as he licked at her torn flesh until he was satisfied that it had been cleaned enough. She could feel that he wasn’t doing it to be cruel, he was trying to take care of her. It still hurt. She only had a moment of relief before he moved to her other arm and began licking blood off with the same thoroughness.
Just when she thought he might finally be done, he grabbed her arm, lifted, rotated, and yanked. Her shoulder snapped back into place with a sick crunch. She gaped wetly and passed out.
When she woke, Riddick was licking the fresh blood seeping down her arm. Carolyn wept and endured. Crooning softly, he licked a shallow scrape on her chin and finally sat back on his heels.
Grabbing the hem of his shirt, Riddick lifted it off over his head and ripped it into two pieces. If she wasn’t in so much pain she’d take more pleasure in the sight of his bare torso rippling beneath miles of deliciously dark skin. As it was she took a mental snapshot and promised to revisit it at a later date if she survived all of this. Riddick looked at her through his eyelashes and gave her a faint smirk before he began to use his shirt to bind the wounds on her arms. The discomfort made the sight of his bare torso fade in significance. She hissed through her teeth.
Once done, he cocked his head and licked blood from the corner of his mouth, looking her over for more wounds. It gave her a chance to catch her breath. Completing his survey, he moved down to her legs. The slice on her calf and a gouge on her thigh received the same treatment, but thankfully the wounds weren’t as bad so it went more quickly.
Blinking tears out of her eyes, she took a shuddering breath and realized that she could move her arms now, though it still hurt. Not as much as it should have, though. He’d also somehow taken back the pain she’d drained from him earlier and made it disappear. The people he came from must have insanely advanced healing and spiritual gifts. She looked at him in wonder.
Riddick sat back and ran a hand over his shaved head, ripping open a jagged scab above his ear. She winced when it started bleeding anew. Reaching up, he swiped two fingers across the open wound, coating them in blood. Then he reached for her mouth.
Instantly Carolyn clamped her lips closed and turned her head to the side.
Grabbing her chin, he forced her head back and rested his wet fingertips on her bottom lip. He didn’t shove them in but he clearly expected obedience as he caught her eyes in a steely and intelligent gaze, obviously no longer feral. “Open, Caro.”
She felt the press of his mind as he opened silver shields and swept them around her. What was he doing? Realizing he had more patience than she did and fearing what he’d do next to get his way, not to mention her own exhaustion, she sighed through her nose, giving in as she grudgingly opened her lips. The taste of copper burst across her tongue as he slid his fingers in and out of her mouth. She swallowed involuntarily and wondered what he’d do if she asked for some peppermint schnapps to cut the taste. The thought made her lips twitch.
Lips curving in satisfaction, Riddick dropped a searing kiss on her mouth and leaned back just enough to whisper against her mouth, “Blood shared, spirits bound, fates fused. My body stands Sentinel, your empathy Guides.” Leaning back, he looked at her expectantly.
Swallowing hard, mouth still flooded with copper, she fought not to faint again. “What?”
Eyes going hard, he gruffly ordered, “Say it. Bond with me, Carolyn Fry. Say the ritual words and make the link.”
“You don’t owe me this. You don’t owe me anything.” She searched his face but didn’t know what his expression meant. A laugh tried to escape her lips but turned into a cough. It hurt. Everything hurt. When she caught her breath again, she gave him a humorless smile. “Besides, I could die at any moment and bonding would drag your spirit down with me into death.”
“You’re not allowed to die,” he snapped, a muscle jumping in his cheek.
Ignoring her incredulous look, he cupped the side of her face and rubbed along her jaw with his thumb. “Look,” lips firming, eyes shining silver, he met her eyes directly. “We’re in this together now. I want a bond. I want a bond with you. Say the words, Caro.” Behind the bossy tone she could feel his emotions, a swirling mass of desperate hope, desire, and need all focused on her, powerful and protective. When she didn’t answer right away, overcome at the feeling of being so loved, his voice wavered, “Please.”
Lips curving in a smile, she breathed in and took him into her soul. “Blood shared, spirits bound, fates fused. My empathy Guides, your body stands Sentinel. Bonded as one from this moment on.” Leaning forward, she pressed her mouth to his in a soft kiss that echoed the merging of their spirits. His silver shields embraced her mind fully, locking out any unwanted mental contact and granting her peace and safety. Her mind had just enough strength to sweep through and complete the bonding, making herself the touchstone to his senses for the rest of their days.
Overworked, her gifts dropped her back into her aching body. “Ow,” she groaned even as she met his eyes and smiled. Her eyes welled with good tears at the relief and joy of being bonded to her Sentinel, even with overloaded gifts. “I know we could still die at any moment, but wow.”
Carefully hugging her close, he pressed a kiss to her temple and breathed in the scent of her hair. “Definitely wow and you’re still not allowed to die. Come on, up. Let’s get back to the shuttle.” Keeping an arm around her waist, he helped her to her feet. “Anything tries to take a bite of us, I’ll kill it.”
Reaching down, he picked up the bottle of blue bugs and tucked it into her hand, making sure she could grasp it before letting go.
Her arms still felt painful and distressingly weak, even with whatever Riddick had done to start healing them. She wrapped her other arm around his bare waist and tucked her fingers into his waistband. “Try to keep us in the light of the shuttle. It should keep us safe.”
“As long as they don’t fly off without us,” Riddick said grimly as he moved them to the door and opened it a crack, scanning for creatures with all his senses. She could distantly feel him using her as an anchor to cast his senses out farther than he usually allowed himself to go.
“They can’t. No one else knows how to fly.”
Pausing, Riddick pulled his senses back in and looked down at her before throwing back his head in laughter. Lips still twitching, he raised his shiv in his free hand and used it to lead the way out the door and around the building until they were illuminated by the lights of the distant shuttle.
Carolyn didn’t have the strength to hold the bottle up but she kept it at their backs where their bodies would naturally cast shadows that the creatures might use to sneak up in.
They’d made it almost all the way when she heard shouting, crying, and cheering coming from up ahead as the stranded passengers caught sight of them. “They’re alive!” a young voice cried.
She probably shouldn’t have left the five of them behind to go after just one man when none of them knew how to fly, but she had no regrets, not when the man she’d saved was Richard B. Riddick, her now bonded Sentinel. Even if she’d died, he still would’ve lived and could’ve flown them to safety. It had been worth the risk.
As the two of them reached the shuttle, they were mobbed by the ecstatic members of their tribe, who must’ve been on the cusp of giving them both up for dead (and consequently themselves).
“Fry, you’re the luckiest woman I’ve ever met to cheat death this many times!” Shazza laughed and squeezed her forearm, grinning.
Imam grabbed Riddick’s wrist and shook it enthusiastically, not bothered by the bloodstained knife still held in his hand. “Praise be to Allah!”
“Captain! Captain!” the boys cried, jumping up and down on the ramp and waving their arms.
She sketched them all a shaky salute and handed the bottle that had helped save her to a beaming Jack. “Break that for me and set the bugs free, will ya?”
Jack nodded and threw the bottle at the side of a nearby crate, shattering it a bit more violently than she’d intended.
Carolyn stepped away from the distracted Riddick and put a foot up onto the ramp, more than ready to fire up the engines and kiss this planet goodbye.
However, the second her fingers slipped free of her Sentinel’s skin she abruptly became dizzy. Her knees started to collapse. Before her body could hit the ramp, Riddick swept her up into his arms. “Sorry, I’m fine,” she told him groggily as he carried her into the ship. A muscle in his jaw was jumping and his eyes went hard, trying to hide his concern.
Sitting down in the pilot seat, Riddick arranged her body so she was sitting sideways in his lap with her cheek pressed against his bare shoulder. She wanted to protest but he was just so comfortable and she was so tired. The sound of the conversation in the back turned awkward as everyone settled into their seats and stared at the two of them snuggling.
“Fry can have my seat,” Jack offered, sounding both jealous and confused. “I can sit on the floor.”
“She’s fine where she is.” The sound of Riddick’s voice rumbled from his chest directly into her ears. She liked the sensation.
“Jack,” Shazza whispered loudly, “they bonded.”
“Oh! Wow, really? Does that mean he knew she was a Guide this whole time even though no one else did?”
Mouth curving, Carolyn opened heavy eyelids to see Riddick flipping switches to close the ramp and prep for takeoff. “Don’t forget to—” she pointed weakly.
“I got it.”
“Ships this old are finicky. You need to—”
“I got it. Relax.” He pressed her head firmly back down on his shoulder before reaching out to flip the switch she’d been about to mention.
Huffing, she let him take charge. For now. She nipped him with her teeth to show that he couldn’t just boss her around all of the time, Sentinel or no.
His head dipped next to her ear and breathed, “Don’t start anything you’re not willing to finish in front of this crowd.”
Before she could decide what to do about the tingles now running up and down her spine, he reached out and shut off the lights, plunging the outside of the ship into darkness.
“Riddick? What are you doing?” Jack asked with a quaver as creatures landed on the windshield of the craft and started banging their heads against it, trying to get inside.
“We can’t leave…” he told her, “…without saying goodnight.” Giving a cruel smirk, he fired up the engines and took off, releasing an explosion of propellant that lit the settlement on fire and incinerated thousands of swarming creatures. Satisfaction oozed from him. Carolyn felt pretty great about it herself.
As they rose above the cloud layer and the windshield filled with the familiar glory of the sparkle of a million stars, everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Imam and his boys broke into prayers of praise, though everyone had to be feeling the ghosts of those they’d left behind. As the prayers trailed off, Carolyn drifted into a light doze.
She woke up to Jack’s voice. “A lot of questions, whoever we run into. Could even be a merc ship. So, what do we tell them about you?”
The question made her fingers tighten around the arm Riddick had wrapped around her waist. A soothing feeling flowed from his mind into hers, a balm that coated her rising anxiety. He pulled her closer against his chest and ran a hand over her hair and down her back, carefully avoiding her wounds.
She felt him turn to look at Jack, the stubble of his chin catching on her hair. After a moment of thought he finally answered. “Tell them Riddick’s dead. He died somewhere on that planet.”
As they flew back towards the shipping lane, Carolyn’s mind churned over thoughts and plans. She felt the passengers succumb to sleep one by one until only she and her Sentinel were awake. Tipping her head back, she opened her eyes. “How do you feel about ditching the alliteration and becoming Richard Fry?”
Lips twitching, he gave her a sideways glance. “I’ll have to think about it. I don’t know if I want to be a kept man.”
Beneath her glare his lips widened into a full fledged grin. She tried to pull away and he laughed. “Just kidding.” He rubbed his nose down hers and dropped a kiss on her lips.
He’d turned out to be a lot more into touching and kissing than she’d thought. She liked it, even when he was being irritating.
“As long as you’re the one who’s keeping me, I suppose I can get used to it. We can train the others to call me Fry, but I find I like it best when you call me Richard.” Pressing his face against the top of her head, he breathed in deep.
Relaxing back against his body, she smiled to herself. “Me too.” She yawned and closed her eyes. “We just need to get rescued and back to civilization. Then I can quit the company and collect my back pay. After that, we’ll have capital to go find somewhere on the frontier to make our new home. There’s always work for pilots.”
“I like that plan,” he said softly, brushing her hair off her face and pausing to slide a lock through his fingers over and over, indulging himself in the texture. “We just have to escort Imam and his boys to New Mecca and get Shazza and Jack settled somewhere safe. Maybe Shazza will have some ideas for good places for us all to put down roots.”
“Tribe first,” she agreed, petting her fingers along his arm as she slid back towards sleep.
“Guide and Tribe.” He pressed a hand over her heart for a moment, indulging his senses in the strong thump of her heartbeat.
“Sentinel and Guide,” she murmured, already half asleep. “Protect each other. Me ‘n you. T’gether. F’rever.”
“Yeah,” he breathed, looking out at the stars with a faint smile she felt more than saw. “Together forever.”