(I created a lot of this, but not Riddick, as stated in COPYRIGHTS listed in chapter 1)


Chapter 18

Turn About


Riddick greeted the morning alone. Not alone in the sense that Coulter had gone back to bed and left him be, but rather in the sense he was the only one conscious to see it. Much as she had the first night, Coulter had managed to insinuate herself up against his side, this time snuggled up comfortably under his arm, her head leaning against his good shoulder. It wasn't a bad fit and, for his part, she was a source of warmth against the night chill. For her part, he knew his presence was as much a literal blanket as it was the security sort. It still felt strange... and more than a bit twisted... to be holding her in such a familiar fashion considering his plans, but he suspected it would score him some good points in the trust game - either building on hers or convincing her she had built on his.

It was still dark when he heard the morning chorus start to build, birds more intimately tuned to the cycles of the planet than he. Slowly, the sparkling midnight blacks and blues of the night began to shift on the horizon behind the trees. As light steadily infiltrated the heavens, Riddick watched the stars fade until the planet's northernmost star and the last of their invented constellations was lost to the growing wash of pale. It was a stark contrast from the last few mornings. No more fog; no more eerie silence… the world was returning to a semblance of 'normal,' and he was one step further from the elusive havens of peace he had found.

It wasn't too late. He could still leave. He could head back up the mountain...

It was a temptation, but he knew he wouldn't. He had no yen for the blocky buildings in the distance, nor for the confining ship that would take them away from this temperate paradise, but the peace and freedom offered here were deceptive. Tangiers would not let him remain undisturbed for long. He looked down, gingerly brushing his hand over the bandages that wrapped his chest. If the bandages weren't reminder enough, the pain of the gesture certainly was. He could no longer afford to forgo the city. He had to see a doctor within the next few days or there would be a price to pay.

But a few odd hours , give or take, wasn't going to push things to critical. He could put off just a little longer. Riddick let his hand fall back to his lap and stared out over the meadow, drinking in the quiet. He'd actually needed this. After Altair, after the wracking drug filled 'treatments' that warped mind and body, after the hell of going through hard withdrawal, and Shadow dancing with Jenner and his merc hunters on Breken 4 so soon after...

He could have done without the cats, but mentally? Yeah. He probably would have survived without this breather - that's what he did best... survive - but this time, this place, even with Coulter for company... It'd been damn near a vacation. It had been good for him and he was sorry it had to end. Only God knew how long it would be before he'd have a chance like this again, and Riddick suspected it would be a long time. In fact, he was pretty sure the only peace God intended him to find would be the Rest-In-Peace kind, or more likely, Rest-in-Pieces. But not today. At least, not right now. Right now, there was quiet, and Riddick was going to take it while he could get it.

The coming morn trickled into the clearing, slowly removing the spell of night. The grass eased back to real from silver, and a young buck lifted his head regularly to inspect the perimeter as his sheltering darkness began to fade. The buck had taken up residence in the clearing about an hour after his little payday had ceased her chatter and fallen back asleep. The animal was well aware of their encroachment into his perimeter... had been from the beginning. And long before it stepped into the starlight, Riddick had been aware of it. He had heard the buck moving along the outer pathways, and pausing at every vantage that let it stare at the intruders. Riddick had kept still, hoping Coulter would do the same, and after around twenty minutes of scrutiny, the buck had decided they were worth risking.

The animal had looked to be cast in sterling and soot. His antlers spread and forked, their spiral pattern making them appear to be spun of twisted silver rope. Its coat, on the other hand, was rough brushed silver streaked by dark matte lines that swallowed the light creating the effect that the animal was striped with gaps of shadow. The buck entered the clearing cautiously, stepping high, head up, ears forward, tail flipping, ready to bolt as it stared at human additions to his landscape, but as Riddick kept his peace, as Coulter offered no movement, the animal grew more daring.

Three bounds distance from the forest edge, the buck dropped its head below the high grass and jerked its antlers hard. Immediately it came up with a mouthful of grass. It stood, watching the two, as the vegetation protruding from its mouth waved with the rhythm of its jaws, growing shorter and shorter until it finally disappeared altogether. The buck stared at Riddick, and then dropped its head again. Five more times the buck dropped its head to claim a mouthful of grass and watch the intruders as it chewed, but each time a little more of the wary tension melted from its body, and its head remained below the grass a little longer. On the sixth, after the grass had vanished, the buck tipped its head and looked hard at them, as if it were trying to remember what it was about these new shapes that had frightened it. Nearly a minute passed and then, with a shake of its antlers and a stamp of its foot, it turned broadside and started searching the grass in a more focused manner.

They weren't forgotten. At random intervals the buck would pop its head up and look in their direction as if the reassure itself it hadn't been imagining things, and then with a similar head shake and foot stamp, it would dismiss them again. Riddick considered the effort that would be involved in acquiring venison for breakfast, but quickly dismissed the idea. Even if he weren't walking wounded, he doubted Coulter would give him the liberty of an extended stalk. Instead, he contented himself with enjoying the animal's presence... in appreciating this last bit of quietude and calm that the forest was giving him for as long as it lasted, and so he shared the clearing with the stars and the buck until morning came to chase them both away.

It didn't happen all at once. Riddick watched as the growing light transformed the buck from silver and shadow to gold and slate, as his antlers shifted from sterling to ivory, and as the light began to infuse the animal's steps with new wariness. He looked over at Riddick more frequently, but the convict did nothing to encourage the animal to leave prematurely. It continued grazing, but its steps were no longer focused on seeking the next succulent. Instead, it began to move with casual intent back to the trees. At the edge of the clearing it raised its head again, giving Riddick one last glance, and then - with a flick of its black tipped tail - it was gone.

Riddick continued to watch as the dusk clinging within the shelter of the forest began to lose ground and began to retreat back into the foliage. Slowly, color and definition returned to the depths, the energy of flitting wings and spasmodic rodents replacing the sedate grace of the nocturnal deer and twinkling stars. Night switched out for day, and still Riddick sat. The fact was he rather dreaded moving, not only for what he would be leaving behind, but for what he would be taking on. Moving without the girl's painkillers was going to be a chore, but he was done with them. He didn't know if the faint sense of want/need he felt was psychological or physical, natural reaction or start of an unnatural need, but it would go unanswered. He would not risk addiction again.

Riddick sat until the girl beside him began to stir, and then - only then - reluctantly took charge of starting the day. "Rise and shine. Last day in the woods. That ought to make you happy."

"I'm up..." she mumbled, "last day..." and then he felt tension slide into her muscles as the meaning sank into her brain and woke her up. "Last day in the woods? Really?"

"We hit the plateau, it's downhill from there. The shelf below is pretty much farms and farmland 'til you hit the city limits. Might still see snakes but not much chance of Mougus or Fever Cats down there."

Riddick watched the girl as she peeled herself out from under his arm and stretched. She felt safe. Didn't know what she was inviting. Her mistake. It was more for appearance that he reiterated his earlier invitation. He already knew her answer. "We'll need to be watching for a different kind of hunter down there. You sure you still want me riding escort?"

She didn't disappoint. Her stretching hesitated momentarily - her sweater top lifted and draped to hint at the thin feminine form beneath it... a form revealed more pleasantly feminine than he'd previously thought courtesy of the previous night's fishy dinner - as if she were rechecking her answer, and then, with a brief glance at him, she nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Then it's time to be moving," he announced, resigned to action. But the view had encouraged. "Things to do. Places to be."

He stood, biting back a groan as his wounded flesh protested the sudden change from comfortable stillness to the twisting and shifting that movement entailed. He knew it would get more bearable when the injuries became reacquainted with motion as they stretched and loosened up the degree they were able, but it wasn't going to get better until it was professionally repaired. Two more days... max, he promised himself. But without the girl's painkillers, it was going to be a l-o-n-g two days.

When he turned, she was also on her feet and watching him. "I'm so sorry. I totally spaced the timing. The painkillers have worn out, haven't they? I'll get the doser right..."

She had already turned for the camp, but Riddick stopped her with a word. "No." As she looked back, surprised, he shook his head marginally. "I'm done with them."

"Are you sure? You can't be comfortable."

His payday worrying about his comfort. That was exactly why she had to go. Attachments weren't healthy. She was trying to get him killed. "I'm not, but I don't like drugs. Not going to depend on them."

She stared at him a moment, then finally nodded. "Okay. You're the one that has to deal with the consequences. If you change your mind, let me know." And she left it at that.

There wasn't much to do with the camp... typical routine; breakfast, private necessities which - at least during daylight hours - she could pull off by herself now, salvage materials and put out the fire. It was almost tempting to neglect the salvage part, but they weren't out of the woods yet... figuratively... and there was no sense leaving bright shiny objects around to announce where they had been.

She took on anything she thought he'd find uncomfortable, which was most everything, and left him to direct operations from the tree trunk. It took a little longer, but considering the alternative, he was fine with it. He had her use the rest of their water to put out the fire, and when there was nothing left but damp charcoal and an underlying stench of wet brimstone beneath the flowers. When she was finished, before they departed, she pulled out the tank top and held it up.

"I wish I'd had you try this on last night," she said ruefully. "I didn't expect you to quit the painkillers."

"I'll manage," he rumbled, but he kinda wished she had too.

She did most the work bringing it down over his head, but getting his arms through simply hurt. It was more than his shoulder now. Simply moving hurt. Yeah. It was going to be a l-o-n-g day. The tank top was tighter around his chest than normal, and over the bulk of the bandages - as thin as SpyderWrap was - it felt tighter still, but putting the 'Here-I-Am' white of the bandages under something darker was its own kind of relief. There was a twist to the way the seams went together that shifted the fit and pulled sections of the bandages against his chest, but it wasn't wholly uncomfortable - yet.

As he stood, she worked with quiet intensity to pull together the little gaps that hadn't been obvious in the slack fabric and reinforced the ones that looked chancy under the new stress. It was a rough job to be sure - best for distance only - but it was a better job than he could have done, and it was needed. The less obvious they could appear, the better off they'd be. He hoped it would be temporary, that maybe he'd be lucky enough to find the shirt of some hulky farmer left in a barn or hanging on a post, but he was realistic. A build like his could be hard to cover with luck. At least, now, he wouldn't be sticking out like a totally sore thumb.

"That's probably the extent of it," she finally stepped back and eyed her work critically yet another time. "There's just a limit to what I can do considering the damage and my skill level. I can sew, but a seamstress I'm not."

Riddick snorted. "Better one than 99 percent of the women in the galaxy. Better one than me."

At that, she laughed. "I should hope I'd be a better seamstress than you. If not, I've got whole lot more to talk about than Richard Riddick can cook and sew."

Riddick chuckled, and watched as she returned the thread and needle to their respective sewing kits. She offered him his, but when he considered the movement of putting it back in his cargo pocket, he declined. "Pack 'em both. I'll get it later."

She did, and then hefted the duffle to her shoulder, exactly as he expected. This time Riddick let her take the bag without comment. If nothing else, she had proved her determination, and he had no desire to carry it if he didn't have to, especially today. He considered any distance it cost them a fair trade off.

"Where to next?" she asked.

"Water, then down," he answered, and she grinned.

The woods were quiet... relatively speaking. An occasional bird song accompanied them from a distance, but it was rare that Riddick couldn't get an eye on the singer. That and the tunes these birds were singing were wholly different from the cat calls. They also found themselves being scolded by some kind of squirrel, and Coulter giggled at the way his gray tail flipped with each warning bark sounded. His perch was a branch about a meter higher than Riddick's head, and Riddick was surprised when Coulter picked up a pinecone and threw it at the creature. The brittle little projectile smacked against the branch beneath the beast, not six centimeters to the left of its furry little feet.

The squirrel gave a startled shriek and went flying backwards in a twisting splay legged leap for its life. It latched on to a thinner branch behind it and swung like an out-of-control circus artist, nearly spinning completely around it in its wild efforts to get away. The creature managed to launch itself at something thicker and scrambled back to the trunk, racing to a higher vantage where it began cussing Coulter out in the vilest language known to squirreldom. Coulter laughed so hard she dropped the duffle, and it only took her reaching down for another pinecone to send the animal running for an even higher retreat before continuing its tirade. Riddick found himself chuckling as well, and wondering just where Coulter had intended her little rocket to hit. She'd been off center, but she hit close. If she'd actually hit the thing, she might have knocked it out of the tree. Not that he thought that short a fall would have hurt the thing, but were circumstances a little different, he might have been willing to take advantage of it. Roast squirrel for lunch? That would be worth the delay. Unfortunately... today... it wasn't worth the pain.

Coulter recovered the duffle and they left the angry squirrel behind and headed for the ravine. Riddick could hear the water before he smelled it – of course he smelled precious little these days. As they approached... as he knelt on one knee at the entrance... he could feel as much as hear the flow of air and the steady reverberations that pushed out from between the walls like the roar of an angry leviathan. Riddick checked the tracks outside to ensure nothing had gone in recently that hadn't come back out. He didn't expect anything this 'late' in the morning, but even deer-types could become dangerous if cornered, especially if their only escape was through you, even more so if they had antlers, and the waterfall would mask his and Coulter's approach. The sudden appearance of two predators - Coulter's forward facing eyes would mark her as one whether she was or not - was sure to cause a panic.

But the way seemed clear, so they entered the rift and began the careful trek down between the walls. The passage was narrow, barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast at its widest so Coulter let Riddick take the lead. And then it wasn't just the sound and the feel... suddenly, he could smell it. The air coming at them, generated by the thunderous flow up ahead, pushed the girl's perfume behind him and Riddick could scent the cataract ahead in the air. He inhaled deeply, appreciating the cool flavor of wild water in a near pristine land. The fresh scent of the hot spring was just a bare touch of a note, but the sharp edge of the river's volcanic origins - the minerals, the faint chemicals in the rocks the water ran through – was clearly evident to him. And even this, in its violent unchanging constancy, was a different kind of peace that he would soon be leaving behind.

However illogical, the thought was almost painful. He did not enjoy the life he led. It was a challenge and it gave him a grim satisfaction to best those that came after him, to prove his superiority, but his only reward was to keep on, keeping on... more of the same. He lived that life only because it was the only one available to him. This girl with her deceptive caring was an aching reminder of a kind of a life he would never know. This place... this girl... they had opened a wound, and the sooner he could put them behind him - permanently - the better.

The path was relatively well worn, mostly flat sand washed in by water, obstructed once by a half buried tree trunk and occasionally by fallen stones which required careful navigation as they wove through the short twisty canyon. Depressions filled with hoof prints on either side of the tree and deep gouges in the wood revealed the differing methodologies of the various animals for traversing that obstacle, while sand between the stones showed where the nimble feet of many of the forest residents found much of their footing in the gaps between. Riddick, on the other hand, found his footing atop the fallen debris and a careful glance back showed Coulter doing the same. As they went deeper, the air around them soon took on a chill, and then grew damp with the mist of the waterfall as the rush of water became a subtle vibration they could feel through their feet and in the air... and on in his chest. One last jumble of rocks littered their way, and they traversed stone to stone until they came around the bend and beheld the great spray of violent water cascading down from the dark wall behind it.

This was nothing like the dainty little waterfalls that Coulter had found so beautiful. This spewed from the wall in a thundering arc of solid spray that pounded down into the pool below it. The roar was deafening, the high walls containing and reflecting the sound back as effectively as an amphitheater, and this wasn't just a vibration, this pounded against Riddick's chest. It echoed and reverberated in every slash and laceration shaking the raw nerve endings and trying to vibrate the molecules of derm-glue apart. He felt the freedom to groan under the cover of the roar as he crossed his arms over his chest, hoping to buffer the vibration, but it did little good.

"Get the water," Riddick shouted and was further irritated by the wild twinge his injuries gave him when he was required to add a visual to the command. She had her hands over her ears. Evidently, it seemed just as loud to her.

Coulter nodded, and scrambled past him to the water's edge where she ripped open the duffle and pulled out the Swish stick, testing the water the way he shown her.

The secretary was moving quickly and efficiently. He saw the green reading light up, and she put the Swish stick away, trading it for a Steribottle in the same movement. Coulter filled it, activating the sterilizing cycle, then set it aside and pulled out the other. While one bottle ran, she filled the second and set it to running as well before putting it back in the duffle. She put her hands over her ears again as she nodded her head with the display on the first bottle, counting off the seconds till completion, and then she was moving again. She filled her hip bottle and then filled the Steribottle again. She didn't wait for it to run, but activated the cycle and shoved it in the duffle. Coulter barely had the bag closed before she was vacating as quickly as she could, and she wasn't even waiting for him. She pushed past his position and led the way out as fast as she could.

"Oh man, oh man, oh man!" she exclaimed after they had exited the ravine and put a little distance between themselves and the entrance, "that was actually painful. Who knew water could be so loud."

She had dropped the duffle and was rubbing her ears. Riddick refrained from doing the same only because it would stretch the muscles through his chest.

"Acoustics of the walls amplified the sound," Riddick agreed. "Not my first choice for a watering hole, but we won't be going back."

That perked her up. "That's right! We're out of here. I'm so excited, Riddick, I can't thank you enough."

"Don't thank me," he put back. "I'm getting' paid for this, remember?" And you're not gonna like who's payin'.

She looked at him funny and then smiled anyway. "Tony won't disappoint you. I'm sure of it."

He ain't gonna have a chance, girl. He ain't seeing you again. Too risky, he thought, but out loud he answered, "It'll get me where I want to go."

"Where's that?"

He would have shrugged, but the movement was aborted before it could even begin. "Anywhere but here." He wasn't going to discuss his future plans with a payday. "Let's go."

"Right behind you." She grinned, and snatched up the duffle ready to fall in step.

Yeah. Way too close behind me, but not for much longer. This Boy Scout run's solo.

Riddick set his jaw and set a decent pace. It was going to hurt regardless, so he figured it might as well be worth it. It was going to wear on Coulter, but he suspected the chunky buildings and nice straight rows of crops would spur her on. She was going back where she wanted to be... unlike him. As they walked his eyes drank in the last of the wild green growth trying to fill his memory banks, wishing he could get scenery like this to show up in his dreams instead.

The terrain was much the same as the day before, and they again kept to the tree line in the shade and under the cover, but as they put the meters behind them, the canyon depth slowly began to decrease as the ancient volcanic layers that formed it began to peter out. The flow ended suddenly, but they got lucky. Riddick found a detour down that required a minimal amount of encouragement on his part. Maybe her victory over the side of the caldera helped because compared to that, this little nine meter slope was nothing, and she mustered the backbone to tackle it relatively quickly. They'd see what the edge of the plateau did to her.

With the end of the flow, the land went through another abrupt transition. The species were much the same, but suddenly the growth was much older, the trunks were thicker, the branches more twisted, and there were great skeletons of grey wood interspersed. By comparison, the forest behind them - while well-established - seemed, almost, new. Someone knowledgeable of the life spans of the various vegetation could put a reasonably accurate date to the last big eruption, but Riddick knew that wasn't him. All these old trees were telling him was that he was screwed. These ancient reminders of what the woods behind them had once been... of what it would become... were just a reminder of the old growth he'd left up on the mountain, but there was no going back now.

The campsite had been the first definitive evidence of man's intrusion into the wilderness, but it was not the last. It wasn't long before the path Riddick chose along the river morphed into the bare scar of foot traffic - an animal trail taken over by wider feet. There was no recent evidence of biped travel, but its existence was enough and within the hour Riddick sensed the drop off. It wasn't anything he could put his finger on... maybe a subtle change in the way sounds carried to him from the distance or - when the air flow allowed - the almost imperceptible addition of scents lifted up from the valley, but there was a great sense of openness ahead that he could almost feel. Riddick sighed. Knew it was comin'. Vacation's over. No sense gettin' emotional. But, his pace slowed as if to delay the inevitable. If Coulter noticed, she didn't say anything, but when she caught the first glimpse of the distant city through the trees, she shrieked. If he hadn't been aware and expecting some reaction, he would have killed her. Even prepared, her sudden exclamation caused a jerk that seared through his muscles.

"Riddick! I see it! I see the city! We're getting so close!" She did a little dance, and then spun around to look at where they'd come from. "I can't believe we made it!"

Riddick didn't answer right off but turned himself to cast one last regretful look at the paradise he was losing. The river canyon meandered but was wide enough he could look up the absence of trees nearly as far as the caldera and to the great green mountains beyond. The cloud cover was burning off with the heat to the day, and his mind's eye could see the golden glow spilling down through the high leafy canopy to wash over the ferns that covered the forest floor in a million verdant colors... could see the bell shaped trunk woven of a multitude of heavy vines merged into a whole, still lined with bark of its victim... could see the little hover bird whose movements were so precise... the whorled snail, the King of the Lake and even the sad remains of the two magnificent Gryphyian Cats, their olive striped coats and muscled bodies left to rot in the valley. Wasn't that the fate of everything? Especially anything involving him?

"Yeah," he finally said tersely. "Let's get out of here."

The plateau was a sharp edge of rock that plummeted near three hundred meters before spreading out into a broad shelf of fertile land surround by a vast slate ocean. This land, crossed and hatched by fields of crops delineated by mobile water dispersement tracks and roads, pushed back until it butted up against the river which had wound a dark sparkling path across the green floor to curl lazily around the city on one side separating the green from the grime.

It was a stark contrast - the near side of the river the soft, varied shapes of things alive and growing, even if artificially arranged, the other harsh and dark... bare earth tones, garish synthesized colors, and the sharp, hard edges of urban sprawl and modern architecture. The latter had spread to swallow the land from the river to the sea like a malformed cancerous growth. Buildings jutted up from the ground, growing in height near the city center, and on the other side he could see the space port, recognizable by the tarmac of geometric pads of dead, artificial stone surrounding a squat collection of wide structures painted a uniform tan. Distance ate the details, but it was all already, oh, so familiar. It was the last place he wanted to go, and Riddick silently cursed the necessity, but a necessity it was.

As they approached the edge, Riddick found his luck holding. A small barriered lot prevented people from taking vehicles further, but provided a place to park while they explored on less intrusive devices, and a rough road disappearing over the edge promised an egress down. The start was going to be rough, as high up as they were, but if the road were wide enough to cut the view... He hoped Coulter could stomach it.

Another plus... no vehicles currently parked in the lot. Considering the place's appearance, he did not find that entirely suspicious. The weeds growing up in and around the barriers indicated the place was used, but not overly. Big cities like the one below offered people a lot to do and getting to these woods was a serious endeavor. Planetary week cycle was not something he had gleaned from the onboard computers, but the evidence and the odds put them in the workweek. He was willing to trust it for the time being. It would be a good thing... cut down on possible conflicts because the fewer people he encountered in Coulter's presence, the fewer chances he'd have to revert to type and do something that would jeopardize everything.

He followed the path to the parking lot and paused by a sign that said, 'Entering designated wilderness area. No hunting. No littering. No feeding the animals. Animals in wilderness area are wild and should be considered dangerous. Do not approach. Violators will be prosecuted.'

"Hmmm," he heard Coulter behind him. "Wonder if they'll accept a plea of self-defense."

"Let's not ask," Riddick returned.

He didn't waste time, but head straight for the exit, and no sooner than they reached the lip, then Coulter came to a stop, and - unceremoniously - sat down in the road.

"Oh, God," she whispered, breathing hard with her eyes fixed firmly to the ground in front of her. "That's a long way down."

The road slipped over the edge and veered away from the river sharply. It ran parallel to the edge of the plateau with a downward slant Riddick put somewhere around 13 percent. After 30 meters, it hair-pinned sharply coming back toward the river, immediately disappearing behind the first leg. Switchbacks. After that first turn, the rest of the road wasn't even visible unless you moved toward the edge, which Coulter wasn't going to do... willingly. The view that had got her was the road and then nothing... absolutely nothing. She could see down, down, down vista to the farm land below, with nothing but thin air in between... a lot of it. No wonder she was freaked. The drop wasn't as sheer as it seemed, but it was as close as it could be and still manage to fit a road on it... sheer enough that even a drop from one road surface to the next could be potentially fatal. Similar barriers to the ones that enclosed the parking lot hugged the outside edge of the roadway, but compared to the drop on the other side they would seem rather frail.

Switchbacks meant they'd be covering 10 times or better the vertical distance from top to bottom, but there'd be no sudden stops at the bottom. If he could just get Coulter moving, he was sure she would make it. The road was a solid surface she could keep her eyes on all the way down.

The road also told him the vehicle technology he could expect below... limited hover was his guess. The fact that there was a road at all, and the height of the barriers was a good indication. Add to that the turns were too sharp for wheels and the treatment on the surface to prevent erosion. It looked old, but wasn't seriously worn or rutted. Hover spread vehicle weight more efficiently and put less wear and tear on the surface. It was good to know because there weren't too many hovers he couldn't hotwire if the need came.

Riddick stopped and turned his focus to Coulter. "You got down the stairs. This is easier. It's a road."

"It's kilometers high," she whimpered, staring at ground as if it anchored her. One arm clutched the duffle, and the other her purse as if they were flotation devices that prevented her from drowning.

Damn. Time to play motivator again. 'Play' was the operative word. There was nothing in him that felt like being 'nice' to her at the moment. He hurt, and the last thing he wanted to do was sit here and have to talk anyone into walking down a road.

He pressed into her floral domain and crouched in front of her so his presence dominated her awareness. The gentleness he used to lift her chin was not feigned although it was as much for his benefit as hers. Luckily, she didn't fight him. That would have hurt more. He forced her to meet his eyes and immediately the impact and subtle tension he had come to expect from her fear-filled gaze hit him. Her eyes were back to thunder and autumn, deep browns and rusts encircled by dark roiling stormy blue grays that almost shifted as he watched. What was it about her that he sensed her fear so keenly? That he nearly felt it! It wasn't like he could smell it through that altered crap her skin oozed.

"It's meters high and you only have to take it one step at a time." He forced patience into his tone. "No drops, no grabs, no blind footholds. Easy stroll down a flat surface. You don't even have to enjoy the view if you don't want. Just keep your eyes on the road."

"You make it sound so easy," she protested, "but it's not."

"Yes, it is. You got the guts, girl. You work them out every time you have to psyche out your brain on those THS climbs you do. Tell me your gut don't react to the view."

"It does," she admitted breathlessly, "but I know it's not really real. I'm not really in any danger if I fall. I can push through it. But this is real... and it's so high..."

"But no danger. No chance of falling. This is safer than THS. It's a road."

"You've almost got me convinced," she said, a plea, and she shuttered, her chin slipping off his hand. She broke his gaze but didn't revert to the desperate staring at the ground he pulled her out of.

"You're in more danger keeping my company than walking down that road. Don't let this stop you so close to gettin' home." he offered. The twinge his words triggered was minimal. Need to work it a little harder. Conscience ain't all dead yet. It was a goal, but a little part of him wondered if it was a good one. Felt like he was trying to kill something important. Did it make sense to kill yourself to stay alive? "You beat the stairs, and those were high and real. Danger was real too, but you did it."

"I beat the stairs," she repeated tentatively, then looked back up, catching his gaze again, not quite convinced.

"I'm walking this road too, remember?" he assured her. "Just follow me."

"Okay," she answered shakily, "I'll try."

Riddick stood carefully. The 'nice' thing to do would have been to give her a hand up, but no way was he even going to try. He watched her struggle up on wobbly legs and take a number of deep breaths before reaching back down for the duffle strap. She almost staggered taking up its weight, but he heard her whispering, "I beat the stairs. I can walk down a road." It took several repetitions, but she finally looked at him, the fear in her eyes leashed. "Let's go," she said tightly, "before I start thinking again."

Riddick took the lead, careful to take the inside track. The view on the outside was a catch 22. It revealed the network of roads which broke the distance to the bottom into steps, but some of those steps down were pretty high. Better to keep Coulter's view limited to the one she'd already seen with a two meter cushion of earth and a fence in-between. Coulter took up position behind him, and he heard her repeating her little mantra regularly.

Once they started, they actually made decent time considering they were only dropping six to fourteen meters for every hundred they walked. Riddick guessed they'd end up covering nearly four kilometers worth of back and forth before they hit bottom, and as they zig-zagged their way down, both came to appreciate when the path brought them back to the river. The water leaped and fell down the mountainside in a constant, ever changing series of waterfalls and rapids, and as the day quickly grew hotter, with the wind lifting up from the shelf feeling dusty and dry, the cool mist of the river became a moment to refresh before tackling the next leg. The road designers had tried to be scenic and keep the river a focal point of the drive up, but the lay of the land limited the opportunities. Some legs were short little jaunts there and back again returning them to the river before they even missed it. Others were long winding roads that held switchbacks of their own, but before they hit bottom they had to say good-bye to the river altogether and both regretted its absence.

Riddick found the wind an annoyance for another reason. The constant air movement narrowed the effect of Coulter's perfume, but in the rush up the rock face, the scents from the valley below were quickly mixed with those of the trail ahead and thoroughly homogenized... no help at all in determining what to expect further on. Only the nearest scent sources made it through with any identity, the rotting turtle that had died, wedged upside down under a bush by a passing vehicle; the bunches of brilliant red flowers that clustered in the partial shade of the barrier posts, the fox den burrowed in cliff side near the eighth turn down. It was a little like traveling half blind, but he had gotten used to that... relatively. He comforted himself with the thought that his time under that current limitation was finite, and that the payoff for the hindrance was going to be well worth the inconvenience.

For her part, Coulter focused on putting one foot in front of the other. He knew she was keeping her eyes on the road, but there were times he could swear he felt her eyes boring into the middle of his back. There were distinct disadvantages to being paranoid when someone was depending on you for their strength and sanity. Twice near the top, when a corner offered an unexpectedly immediate view of down, she froze, but Riddick only had to push in close, placing his body between her and the sights, and remind her, "It's a road." She would shake herself out of it, literally, repeat her mantra, and keep going.

The closer to bottom they got, the more she relaxed became until she was very deliberately sneaking brief glances from safe sections of road and her mantra had changed.

"I beat the stairs, and I will beat this."

The first time he heard it, it was desperately hopeful, but by three quarters down it was confident, or at least spoken like she intended to believe it. And, then it didn't matter. There was no view. At the bottom of the plateau was a monstrous collection of stones fallen from the heights creating a talus field heaped, piled and strewn across the slope at the plateau's base. These stones were every bit as big and chunky as the stones they had descended outside the caldera, but a road had been carved through this ragged debris. As the stones began to build up on either side, they began to form a canyon and Riddick found himself exchanging moods with Coulter. He didn't like canyons, with their limited exits and height advantage to others. He especially didn't like canyons with nice flat roads that offered little to no cover if someone decided to take advantage of your confinement. He had no reason to think anyone was present to partake of this advantage, but it didn't matter.

Coulter, on the other hand, breathed a huge sigh of relief. The last view of down had shown they were almost there, maybe seventy five meters of down left - although they'd be covering a lot more distance than that to get there - but with the 'protective' stone walls around her, she suddenly felt safe, and it was reflected in her face, her step and her movement. Every rock was interesting, and she looked at them with an odd awed wonder as if she had never imagined she would live long enough to see them. If he gave her time, he wondered if she'd start hugging them. Riddick mentally shook his head. Once they hit bottom, if she went nuts and thought to try hugging him again,, he was going to kick her on her ass. No way he was putting up with that without painkillers.

Suddenly the space between the walls was filled with a dull, low hum... a soft technical hum!

Riddick's sucked breath as he spun, his ears panning his surroundings looking for the source, ready to dodge. They quickly narrowed the sound down to something low... his level... behind him... and when he saw Coulter, he knew.

She was looking nearly as surprised as he was and was feeling a lot less pain. He bit down hard on a groan as the movement caught up with him full. The girl was swinging her purse around and clamping it under her arm, her face puzzled, and then the sound came again, slightly muffled. Her face changed to one of revelation, quickly followed irritation.

"Ah, nuts!" she said in disgust. "That's the low power warning on my note/book." She heaved a big sigh and then noticed his face. "I'm really sorry," she said contritely. "I was reading before I went to dinner and didn't even realize I'd left it on. It kept its charge drawing off the ship when I was in cryo, but there're no radiant power sources out here. It's been running off battery since the crash. I bet it's going to be dead by time we make the city." She pouted and shook her head. "I don't even remember what chapter I'm in. It feels like forever since I was curled up in my hotel room reading." But then she looked at the stone walls around them as if for the first time. "But this is it, isn't it? The final gateway to civilization... no more forest! No more being hunted by wild animals! We'll reach the city by tomorrow night, won't we?"

"Should. Maybe sooner," he answered tightly.

The pain was easing, dropping back down to its constant, dull roar. He turned and resumed his pace. He couldn't leave the pain behind, but if he was going to be feeling it, he was going to get something out of it.

She clapped her hands and gave a little skip of excitement as she started out after him, nearly dropping the duffle in the process. "Oh, I can't wait!" She picked up the pace as she reseated the strap, pushing up closer, so she could talk to him without having to raise her voice. She took up so close behind she had to slide over so she wouldn't step on his heels. "What is the first thing you want to do when we hit town? I want to get a room and take a shower," she continued hardly giving him time to answer. "I want a hot shower with oodles of soap and shampoo, and I want to get out of these clothes."

That thought had merit, but he was certain she wasn't thinking what he was thinking. They still had some time before they got to Breken 4, and a lot of that would be down time... here to there time on a journey too short for cryo. He needed to insist on one cabin. There were a good number of reasons for doing that that had nothing to do with his deficiency, but it might make ending it easier. Proximity would provide a whole lot of opportunity, and he wasn't taking her to Gallo. He let himself do a little fantasizing, and only cut it off when the results were going to become more obvious than was safe. Wasn't easy. But it wouldn't be long. She's not a somebody. She's a payday, he reminded himself deliberately. Won't matter what's done to her in the long run. Leone won't care if she comes in feelin' a little used.

But he still had to be careful. Was there a way he could 'encourage' some potential recreation that wouldn't send her straight to the captain? Street doc might have something to help in that regard. His let his imagination play with that idea for a bit and just as deliberately ignored the niggling trace of scruples that tried to say that wasn't his style... he'd always liked his women willing. But if the drugs worked the way he hoped, she would be. And, she wasn't a woman, he reminded himself yet again. She was a payday. A walking cred collection. What happened to her didn't really matter in the long run, because she was dead already, she just didn't know it. She'd been sentenced the moment Leone's bounty hit the street. Jenner tried for it and screwed up. Now he had her, but if it wasn't him, it'd be someone else. Riddick very deliberately didn't let his thoughts stray to other possibilities... protective possibilities... reward possibilities... long term temptation possibilities. He wasn't going to let himself consider those other details now. The aftermath couldn't compromise his freedom. He was just taking advantage of a situation. Wasn't this his plan from the beginning? He was just reverting to type... the mass murdering serial killer that he was...n't.

Something in him turned, revolted, but he ignored it. It had to be this way. He squashed his residual reluctance, pounding it down hard, forcing the institution of his own new mantra in its place. Payday. Nothing more. Only nice to keep her dumb.

"I don't care if my hiking outfit has acquired permanent wrinkles being packed in here so long," she continued, unaware of his thoughts as she swung her bag a little forward. "This dress is so trashed, I never want to see it again." She grinned in anticipation. "oh, yeah. That's exactly what I want. .. a long hot shower in a stall equipped with spa pulse massager jets ..." She sighed dreamily. "Clean hair, clean me, clean clothes... That's definitely where I want to start, and then I want to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet that has everything."

"Something wrong with my cooking now?" he teased looking at her sidelong.

Of course, if she could actually be persuaded... there was a lot of potential there. He'd pulled a frail out of the cryo tube, but she'd held up under the punishment and picked things up fast. They could kill quite a bit of time finding out what else she could do and learn... if her perfume didn't kill them both first.

But drugs might still be safer.

"Oh, no!" she returned quickly. "Your cooking is excellent. In fact, your fish is fantastic!" She laughed. "I just want some fruits and vegetables, lots of vegetables, and I want something fried with some sort of sauce to dip it in. How funny is that? I almost never eat anything fried. And, I want chocolate... I don't care what... cake, pie, hot fudge sundae, whatever. Just so long as it's chocolate. I deserve it after this!" She smiled at him. "What about you?"

If she were asking about food, he didn't really care, although the chocolate sounded good if she was paying. Truth was he'd find something to like wherever they ended up, but so far as his agenda... excluding recreation...

"Shower'd be good. Med-clinic. Food. Clean clothes. Not necessarily that order."

"The clinic!" she exclaimed. "How could I forget? That is definitely a priority, but we can't go in like this. Too many questions. We're going to have to pay a premium as it is just to keep them from reporting a mauling if they've the same laws as back home..." She paused, and then added, "Whatever the dar-genning costs, Riddick, I'm covering it... personally."

He looked at her in surprise. She had to know he didn't have the means... unless she knew he had her jewelry after all, but it sounded more like she planned to cover it out of her own pocket whether she could recoup it from Gallo or not. That was unexpected.

"Why?" He wasn't taking on any new debts that would interfere with his plans. They were even.

"Because a lot of things could have happened on this trip that didn't. All things considered, you've taken better care of me than I deserved, and I'm grateful."

Riddick stared at her a moment and then gave his head a twist in lieu of a shrug. "Works for me," he accepted, but his tone was more casual than he felt.

This girl said the oddest things at the oddest times and for some reason his neck hairs twitched at this one. He put eyes forward and glanced around surreptitiously looking for another reason, but nothing announced itself.

"We're eating with chairs and tables and forks and spoons tomorrow tonight!" she suddenly announced exuberantly, all seriousness thrown aside. "I'm going to get a shower! I'm going to sleep in a bed! I'm going to get something chocolate! I'm so excited! I can't believe we're finally getting out of here."

Riddick learned more inconsequential trivia about Denise Coulter in the next half hour than he'd learned the entire trip. The answers he gave to her incessant questions were equally trivial and many were even accurate, although they were generic enough they couldn't come back to haunt him. He wanted to tell her to shut up; he wanted to tell her to get further behind him where she belonged; he wanted to tell her to leave him alone, but there was something infectious about her enthusiasm. By the time they hit the bottom, he was just almost looking forward to the city himself. Almost. Big almost. But still, almost.

This is how the other half lives, he thought. The big half that don't have to hide their face from scanners and can walk in any store they please. There were a few places he could go where he could do that... places dominated by his type... the wanted, the outcast, the anti-social... but even there he had to be careful because those types usually felt like they had something to prove or were themselves always on the defensive. For many, violence was the main currency, and bounty hunters knew to look for targets in those places as well. There really was no place that didn't require back-watching. Even a paradise like this had its Gryphyian Cats, but Riddick preferred an honest threat to one out to make a profit at his expense.

And then they hit bottom.

"The end," Coulter said quietly as they approached the end of the talus field where the road spilled out into the open.

Riddick slowed a little, scanning the landscape he could see beyond the stone walls, but all was quiet. He was half considering leaving her behind to check more thoroughly when she laughed out loud.

"You know, I bet someone could make a movie out of something like this. Although I bet the heroine would be someone a lot saucier than a secretary like me..."

"You don't think a secretary running errands for a mob boss is exciting enough?" Riddick was only giving her half his attention. He had no reason to think anything was coming. It was more by habit he was cautious.

"Not for a movie. It's not the mob boss part I don't think would fly," she laughed lightly. "It's the secretary part... even one working for Tony Gallo. Let's see, why would a girl be carrying secret information if she weren't a secretary running jobs like me? It'd have to be something exciting... with a twist in it. Maybe she'd be his girl-on-the-side turning evidence that her boss wants back, or... Ooh, I know... she could be an undercover agent." She laughed again, then paused thoughtfully. "But, I think they'd have to hire you to play you. I can't think of a single actor that could pull you off. You're just so... unconventional."

Riddick wasn't certain that was a compliment.

"Who do you think should play you? You're such the rugged, unexpected hero."

Hero? That term... applied to him... came as a bit of a surprise, and it was bizarre to think how close it had come to that. He still couldn't believe the thought of settling in System space had even crossed his mind... let alone to take a chance on a girl! No. This was real did not expect his end to be happy, and he actively intended to put it off as long as he could. Not this time, sister. Sorry. No heros. No happy endings. Ain't possible... not for me and that screws things for you.

"Wouldn't know," he finally answered. "Haven't been to a movie since I worked for Grycov on Sigma 3. Don't know any of the names or faces people watch these days. Don't care either." He only mildly surprised himself dropping two proper nouns in the same sentence. It wasn't like it was sensitive - any old news article on the subject likely had both in the same paragraph - but it was unusual that he was so free with it. Symptomatic of his mind set he guessed. He'd become half comfortable with her, and the information would be inaccessible soon enough.

"Grycov?" she said in surprise, as if the name had meaning. "Do you mean Raspin Grycov? Head of the big mercenary guild? Is he the guild owner you disobeyed?"

"Yeah," Riddick answered sourly, regretting his slip - he couldn't even think of the man without wanting to kill him, but the guild owner remained out of reach... for now. Riddick hadn't really expected Coulter to know who he was talking about. You didn't expect a city secretary to keep track of merc guilds, but then who knew what this one knew. And, Grycov's guild wasn't a total stranger to the media. The SOB rarely let a good PR opportunity go unmilked, and Riddick had provided him with a shipload.

"Why?" He wasn't sure it mattered, but where this girl was concerned, he had questions of his own.

"It's just..." Coulter started, but trailed off. She was quiet a long moment. Then, as they hit the entrance of the stone canyon, she muttered, "Damn, never enough time when you need it."

Something about the way she said it struck him wrong, twitched his neck hairs, but as he started to turn a jolt of danger set every follicle standing straight up. In the next, a dozen men in uniform, armed with an assortment of weapons aimed at him, stepped out from behind the trees around the parking lot. They advanced quickly, moving to surround him, and Riddick knew he'd let his guard down too far. Had Tangiers been tracking them by satellite all along?

I should have smelled them. Damn her perfume. I would have smelled them if Coulter hadn't pushed in so close... And although his very next thought was, Where's is she? He already knew she wasn't there. Because he could smell the men surrounding him now... because her presence beside him had vanished.

And, he didn't have to wait for the answer.

"You're quite the man, Riddick," he heard Coulter say, but her had voice changed... bolder, more confident, no more bubbling, and there was something else... a hint of regret? "It's been a real pleasure traveling with you, but I'm afraid it's time we parted company. Do me a favor and put these on." There was a metallic flash as she tossed something toward him.

The object might have landed near his feet, but he caught the flash out of the corner of his eye. He turned and caught the object before it hit the ground, ignoring the sear of agony the sudden movement caused. He knew what she'd thrown even before he caught them. The manacles had sturdy metal cuffs with a thick flat bar of flexible links in between. Denise stood in the middle of the road several meters distant, her courier bag open; her little pistol in her hand. Loose change, my ass. Nice weight, he judged. Crush a skull or two well enough... And then thinking back to the cat he added, nearly did.

"And, I'm sincerely sorry if it's uncomfortable, but for the safety of these men, I'll have to insist on the backside position." This time he could hear it clearly. She was sorry. "But first, if you'd be so kind, take two fingers and toss your knives... all of them... in there." She indicated a thorny bush off the road.

Riddick ignored the police and faced Denise. "Say please," he demanded coolly, meeting her eyes, and this time she didn't back down, and she didn't look afraid.

Her pistol barked twice. Riddick felt a sharp zing on either leg as she popped a fastening off the outside pocket of his cargo pants on either side with two well-placed shots.

"Please," she smiled prettily, and at that moment he knew for certain the whole ditzy secretary thing had been an act.

Oh, she needed him all right... not to get out of the forest, but to collect the bounty. He'd been had. Royally. He suddenly had a choice. What was he going to be in her eyes? A human, or a human who acted like an animal. Then again maybe he was something else altogether... an animal acting like a human. What did he want to be?

Deep question.

Whatever that answer, he knew he wanted to get out of this alive. Ah, damn. And, here I thought I was to be the one collecting the payday for a change, he groused idly. Guess I can't complain. She's only doin' to me what I had planned for her and she pulled her trickeration square... What's it they say? Turn about is fair play? At least I'm not gettin' her killed this way.

That last thought came as a surprise, but it also came with the reassurance that he wouldn't be coming back to flirt with any relationships that might get him killed. Him getting friendly with a bounty hunter? Seriously?

Riddick suddenly shook his head and chuckled softly as he obeyed, ignoring the bright flashes of pain across his chest as he tossed his weapons in the bush. She watched and sympathetically indicated he wasn't done when he neglected his boot knife. Riddick weighed the value of one quick flick into any of the exposed throats arrayed about him, but there was no clear advantage to the action and would likely activate any number of trigger fingers, so he complied before slipping a wrist in a cuff.

The device locked automatically, adjusting to a fit that was snug but not uncomfortably so. Putting his arms behind his back pulled on his chest and he released a soft controlled hiss through his teeth as he slipped the other cuff on. It was just pain. That he could handle. Nothing was going to tear now. The cuff locked and immediately the flexible bar in between went rigid forcing his wrists apart. He recognized the style. She'd have a control somewhere that would give him a very nasty shock if he tried to pull anything and it'd track him if he ran. High tech cuffs for a damn slick hunter.

"Quite the charade," he commented.

"Not entirely fictional," she responded. "Enough truth to keep it real, but I didn't have many options. I wouldn't have survived five seconds if you had known I was a bounty hunter, would I?" she asked rhetorically.

"Not a chance," Riddick was honest with his answer and his respect. "Quick thinking, Coulter, and well played, 'though that perfume was a little over the top."

"Colts, actually." She smiled warmly. "Chasya Colts." Praise from Richard B Riddick was evidently to be appreciated regardless of the circumstances. "And...," she pulled a device from her bag and applied it one handed to the underside of her arm even as she kept the gun trained on Riddick. It hummed briefly, and she winced faintly as it withdrew a small capsule and then regenerated the little wound. "...even that served its purpose, wouldn't you say?"

Riddick glanced at the guards surrounding them. "Yeah, and nearly got us killed."

"Oh, and your bloody boot had nothing to do with that?" she returned wryly as she dropped the device back in the bag.

Slick, quick, and keen. She was a rare breed. "Maybe," he grinned. "So how'd you end up in Jenner's cryo?"

"The creed is greed," she answered distastefully as if it explained everything and Riddick got the distinct feeling that she did not care for that unspoken mercenary law. 'I definitely would have never expected you to save my life...' Her soft voice repeated in his memory. 'I guess we're even then.' A bounty hunter with honor? What a concept.

She interrupted his thoughts as she continued. "You were feeling followed back in Clarista City on Breken 4, weren't you?"

"I thought someone was shadowing me," he confirmed. "Never got a look at 'em."

"Most of my targets never even realize I'm there." It was her turn to offer respect. "I was doing my research; trying to figure out the best way to take you... looking for weaknesses, seeing if there were ways to neutralize your strengths. Your sense of smell, for example..." She looked at him as if there were something significant to her little revelation, "...it's exceptionally keen. I might have fooled you with acting, but you would have scented a bluff from a kilometer away so..." She waved at the capsule site under her arm.

"Worked," Riddick said simply.

"But, there was no way I was going to try and take you alone," she continued acknowledging his admission with a grateful nod. "Once I was ready to make the collar, I hired Jenner and crew for back up, but they got greedy. They decided I'd planned well enough they didn't need me anymore. They caught me off guard and drugged me hard... took my ship and made the collar themselves."

"Your ship?" Riddick asked with a smirk, nodding meaningfully toward the forest. That screwed up business deal and unexpected expenses had a whole new meaning now. Truth and lie woven in the same conversation. Enough truth to keep it real, you said. So, Colts, you really afraid of heights? I'm thinkin' that part might be true.

"Yeah. It had bio-sensitive owner-on-board overrides built in. If they killed me, it wouldn't fly, so they made do. But now it's back to square one." She flashed him a sour look.

"Well, 850,000 creds should help ease the pain," he commented unsympathetically, and when he saw something like a wince flash in her eyes he cocked his head. "So how'd this've played if you never got a chance to even the score?"

She shook her head, an odd expression playing briefly across her features. "Guess we'll never know, but I'll tell you this much, if you get out again, I won't be the one coming after you." She reached up to brush a stray strand of hair away from her eyes, and Riddick found his attention drawn briefly to the dark half healed gash he'd flashed. If she didn't pay a pretty penny to have it fixed soon, it was going to scar. She wouldn't forget him anytime soon.

Suddenly, without warning, she crossed the distance between them. The movement was so smooth and casual that it didn't even register as a threat until he felt the barrel of her little gun pressed against his side, but in the next instant her free hand had snaked up behind his neck and was pulling his head toward hers. Fire spread across his chest, but curiosity as much as surprise prompted him to comply. As his face came down her lips rose toward his.

In that brief moment before contact the animal looking to keep its freedom was analyzing the situation... hands behind him was in issue, a painful one, but it could be dealt with. It was the warm body against his that was the question. As a hostage she might have value, but as a bounty hunter he had to expect she knew something of fighting. She'd feel it if he started anything while she was so close and if she pulled the trigger where it was now he'd be dead. The question was would she? She'd killed a man before and it bothered her - he knew in his gut that story was true. So would she be so quick to kill another one or would a gut check delay her reaction? Then again, would she even need to consider it. She knew his limitations... knew where he was vulnerable right now. His mind raced to process this new development, but it never even got as far as the guards.

Their lips met and Chasya's kiss sent a physical sensation rippling through his nerves, like a low electric current carrying pleasure in its voltage. It overrode the fire in his chest. It overrode everything.. He inhaled deeply through his nose in surprise, his eyes closing as this near, this intimate, he found more than a hint of her scent pushing through the fading flowers, a scent so rich and complex it called up imagery; a deep forest pool sprinkled in sunlight, nodding flowers, a sleek predator whispering of musk... and something else unique and different like a spice that wanted to be familiar. He smelled... he felt... her cold fear and hot blood in harmony with a bittersweet crescendo of pity and desire sending ripples of sensation through his body as she devoured his lips.

For the brief moment she held him he let her dominate his awareness... let the sensations drive everything else away. For a brief moment his pain faded to background noise and the chase was gone, the drama was gone, the condemnation was gone... it was just her - the sensation of her lips, her passion, her emotions until she released the pressure on his neck and her lips parted from his.

The world returned. He lifted his head to look at her, fire returning with a vengeance, but Riddick ignored it. Chasya's thunder autumn eyes were slightly dilated and intensely rich, an echo of his surprise emoting from their depths.

There were so many times it had happen on their journey... that he swore he could nearly feel her fear... but this was different. So near, so clear, so powerful, as complex as her scent. Was that what he'd been reading off her? Was it pheromones so subtle they traveled beneath the perfume... beneath conscious knowing?

"What was that?" Riddick asked a bit roughly, holding her gaze.

"A better way to remember you're alive," she said a little breathlessly, then without breaking his gaze her hand fell from his neck and followed the contour of his hip into the depths of his pocket as the little mousegun reminded him of its perilous position. He was keenly aware of her slim fingers questing against his thigh and when he felt her hand emerge a moment later, he knew it held a small tangle of silver and gem stones. "Don't get yourself killed, Riddick," she said quietly as she stepped back and away, and Riddick knew he would remember her as well.

Dropping the jewelry in her bag, she walked past him without looking back. Chasya handed the control for his manacles to the captain and Riddick was surprised to hear her say, "I'll be checking in on him," to the captain as she did. "This wasn't easy, and I'm going to take it personally if you lose him." There was a vague air of threat to the statement, and Riddick wondered what she thought she could do... what Tangiers thought she could do. Was she really tied to Tony Gallo? If that part was true too...

It would be a damn sight harder for Altair to disappear him if someone with a few shady connections was keeping tabs on him.

The captain handed her a credit stick. From her open bag she pulled out a little note/book, and as unassuming as it appeared, Riddick recognized the kind. This wasn't the bookstore model that begged protocols from local civilian communications and media feeds. This was the military version capable of hacking planetary communication grids automatically, including law enforcement channels. If she had one of those, she did have connections somewhere, and that note/book explained the security squad. She'd probably contacted Tangiers while he'd been out after the cat attack, and they'd been tracking her signal ever since. And, here I convinced myself she wouldn't have any resources this side of the city limits. She played me hard time. A smile flitted across his lips.

Yeah. Slick.

Chasya downloaded the credit stick into her note/book and checked the balance. She spoke to the captain briefly, saying something about a dermal regenerator as she entered an adjustment to the information displayed there and then pulled the stick and handed it back. But, it wasn't the captain she looked at as she did. It was Riddick. She nodded once, as if it were he she was closing the transaction with, and then she turned away. As quickly as that he became official Tangiers Penal Colony property... for as long as they could hold him. He wasn't planning on sticking around long. One of the guards offered her a ride, but she waved the man off and started walking toward the town on foot.

The guards closed in around Riddick, and he heard the captain saying something about him having an appointment with the med-ward before they settled him in, but Riddick ignored them as he watched Chasya Colts walk away. The pleating of her short little skirt allowed it to flounce up one way and then the other with the confident swing of her hips as she strode cross country in a most unlady-like manner. Her boots were still in good shape, but the same couldn't be said for the rest of her fancy little outfit. Dirty, bloodstained, torn - there was very little about the woman striding away that resembled the frail he had pulled out of the cryo tube.

"Like I said," Riddick murmured to himself. "Sexy."


THANKS to everyone who stuck with me on this. Hope you enjoyed the hike :o)


NOTES (& a shameless plea!):

One down... three to go! I can't begin to tell you how good it feels. Turn About has been my most popular story... well, up until two chapters ago - lol. I don't know if people just got tired of waiting, or my nixing the possibility of a fling turned them off, but I hope I find out now that the story is done (in my mind a backstory can't have anything that might risk 'softening' him - at this point everything in his life should only be making him harder - but I know Riddick will see her again. It's just at the rate I'm writing that story may not see daylight anytime soon :). But final reviews would be SOOOO appreciated. I've made you wait a long time, but other than that, what do you think? Did it wrap up satisfactorily? Were you disappointed? Did you figure it out (I know some of you were suspicious ;)? Please let me know! My skills have grown over the course of this story, due in large part to Starnyx's persistent grammar patrol as my beta, and to your comments, critiques and reviews as readers. To every single one of you who took the time to put fingers to keys to encourage or correct, THANK YOU! I hope to carry them on to MyCoR 1: Saved by Grace - the first story in my arc and my next goal for completion. Now on to thanks at a more personal level :)...


Tori-Da-Mutt - Thanks for joining. I've been captured by a few stories that 'forced' me to keep reading into the wee hours - hehe. Kinda neat to think one of my stories may have done that to someone else. I don't know. Maybe you're generally nocturnal anyways, but it's a neat thought *GRIN*. So... any chance I can get that review you mentioned :)? Yes, I'm begging - lol. I would really love to know what you thought over all *GRIN*

JadeObsession - Glad! Thanks ;)



Five months and three prisons later...

MyCoR 4: Nigh Unto Christmas
SUMMERY: "I got him... I would'a never guessed he had such a soft spot in his little heart. Children in peril. He's stupid like that." John's Chase Log – TCoR: Pitch Black DVD bonus features. Hmmm, could there be a story there? Of course there is ;o)

Current Status: See profile for status