As usual, I don't own the characters, please don't sue me. Anyway, a bit of a ronseal story...
Seems to me that fate doesn't pull any punches when she wants to prove a point. She'll take out thirty innocent bystanders just to make sure the right people end up together. Blood, death, all of that just adds to the ambiance of the story.
Jack says that shipwrecked and cross-dressing is practically Shakespeare – all we need to do is figure out if this is a tragedy or a comedy.
How do we do that, I ask her because it's boring as hell on this skiff.
Well, she says, madness is a good start if you're going for tragedy. So is lots of killing and running away.
Not looking good then, Jack.
On the plus side, she says grinning at me, we are still alive.
Jack goes quiet after that. Maybe she's thinking about Fry and Shazza and the rest of them.
Yeah, not exactly a comedy what happened to them.
How d'you know about Shakespeare anyway, I ask.
She just shrugs and says something about education wearing off on her in spite of everything. I wonder what that means. Thing is I still don't know who she is, not really. I don't even know her name.
But for some reason today she decides to open up.
I was laid up for like, three months one time, she says slowly, and there was this doctor who told me that there was nothing wrong with my brain and I might as well make the most of my time. He was into his Shakespeare. She speaks lightly but she's not making eye contact and it's obvious there's more to that story.
How about escaping a monster planet just to get picked up by someone else who wants to kill us – that's pretty funny, I say.
She looks back up and her lip quirks, a fraction of that cocky smile shining through.
Definitely comedy, she says.
Jack's getting tired now. She's been awake for almost twenty-four hours straight. Imam gave up about four hours ago and is snoring quietly in the back.
I tell her that she should get her head down but she just snarls at me. Whatever. I'm not her father. Imam can lecture her later if he wants.
Jack's refusal to sleep worries Imam. A lot about Jack worries Imam and I don't know if he's going to be able to handle her when it's just them in New Mecca.
But I get Jack. It's kinda weird but I can almost hear what she's thinking. I know she doesn't want to sleep because whenever she does there are nightmares and besides, she wants to match me.
I don't see the point in arguing. You can't force people to sleep and Jack's got some stamina. But she'll exhaust herself eventually.
She's sitting in the copilots chair and her eyelids are starting to droop. Yeah, not long now. I figure the less we talk the quicker it'll happen.
Her head nods and she shakes herself back awake. She uncurls her legs from underneath her and stretches them. She tries to kick her feet up onto the navconsole like me, but she doesn't have the reach. Her boots hit the deck with a dull thud.
Jack looks a little different now to the way she did back on that planet. Her hair is growing out. It started off looking crew-cut, but it's beginning to curl now. That pisses Jack off and she keep threatening to shave her head again.
Imam hates the idea. Jack's not pretending to be a boy any more and the idea of a bald girl on New Mecca is seriously freaking the holy man out. He's thinking ahead, thinking about how he's going to have to bring her up and I guess he wants a proper girl for a daughter.
As if hair was all it takes.
Jack is winding him up more and more as we get closer to the Helion system. I know she wants him to refuse to take her so she's stuck with me.
Sorry Jack, I think, it ain't happening.
She glances over at me and frowns like she somehow caught that last thought. I don't know what it is she's picking up. Maybe she saw something out of the corner of her eye that made her turn – female peripheral vision and all that.
In any case, the girl's got some kind of radar for saps who'll go out of their way to take care of her. I've seen her scope 'em out at a hundred paces the last time we made spaceport for supplies. She latched on to this middle aged couple who were the kind of people who had an instinctive soft spot for a scruffy kid in need of a change of clothing and a square meal. She came back a few hours later in black tanker boots and leggings and a white racer-back.
Nope, definitely doesn't look a boy any more.
It's been almost six weeks since we got off that planet, six weeks of limping from port to port in a low-key route to Helion, six weeks of being cooped up in a three cabin skiff together. Doesn't bother me and it doesn't seem to bother Jack that much either. I figure you can always be alone in your own head. Imam feels it but he doesn't complain; he just prays.
Jack's bleeding again. In this confined space the scent of her blood lingers and I can almost taste it. It tells me that she's strong and healthy and that's good. Problem is it's harder to keep thinking of her as a kid when she smells like a woman.
Problem is part of me wants a proper taste.
It's not just blood, it's the whole variance of Jack's scent that's stamped on my brain forever. She's doomed herself; there's no way for her to hide from me now.
And she doesn't even care. Ha! The kid's fearless.
Or maybe she knows I'm just another in a long line of saps. She's hooked me, just like she's hooked Imam. I doubt he was looking for this either.
She'll be alright. There'll be plenty more people who'll look after Jack. Better people than me and if they aren't... well, that's why I've taught her to fight. At least, I've taught her as much as I can in this tin can.
It matters that she's safe. I don't know why. Jack's like some kind of hallucination; there doesn't seem to be any kind of logic to her presence.
I hear a soft sigh. She's finally drifted off. Her long neck is twisted uncomfortably and I know she'll wake up with cramp if I don't move her.
She doesn't stir when I lift her out of the chair. That's something we've got to work on but right now she really does need to sleep so I decide not to shake her back awake to teach her a lesson. I lay her down on the tiny bunk and watch as she rolls over onto her stomach.
Sometimes I'll wake up Imam if Jack falls asleep so we can make plans but today I don't. I don't want to talk about leaving any more. It's enough that I'm going away without constantly chewing it over.
I settle down in the shadows opposite the bunk and close my eyes, thinking that I'll catch a bit of shut-eye while Jack and Imam are out. I still can't persuade myself to trust the holy man. He certainly doesn't trust me. Smart guy.
It's probably illogical to see him as a threat but I've spent too long sleeping with one eye open that the habit's too much to kick. Especially now.
The other reason I can't let myself go completely is her. Until Jack's out of my life she's mine to protect. So I can't sleep while she's awake either.
I'm pretty sure there's a word for that. Fucked, probably.
I must sleep for a bit because I wake up at the sound of Jack's voice calling my name. Quiet, uncertain, shaky.
Nightmares, I think and sit forward so she can see me. Sometimes she'll roll back over and never even know she woke up but I don't think this is one of those times. Her breathing is shallow and there is a sharp edge of fear coming off her.
I'm here, kid, I tell her. It's not like I'd be anywhere else but after a month and half I've started to figure out what works. Truth is she's so out of it I could say anything and it would have the same effect.
Her breathing slows and she calms down a little. Not enough to let her sink back into oblivion though.
Monsters? I ask.
She shakes her head and turns away. I think about forcing her to talk about it but both of us could do without that conversation. Middle of the night isn't the time to get all deep and meaningful. You get to thinking about things and you never stop.
Damn it, I think as I realize what I'm about to do.
I get up, go to the bunk and shove Jack over. She glances over her shoulder at me. Her face is full of sleepy confusion.
I'm not playing hide and seek all night, I tell her.
She accepts that. Jack would accept more or less anything from me. The only thing I can't sell her on is the idea that she's better off with Imam.
The bunk is narrow, barely big enough for one, let alone two but Jack doesn't take up much room. She's tall but thin as a rake. She shuffles down the mattress so she fits neatly under my arm. I can feel the slowing thud of her heartbeat where her back is pressed against my chest. This close, her scent fills my head like there's nothing else in the world.
Knowing exactly where she is and that I'm between her and the rest of the world is enough to appease the protective instinct that's been plaguing me and I feel myself relaxing. And I'm not the only one. I can feel Jack's body loosen up too.
Yeah, this is much better.
When I open my eyes again I'm holding a shiv to Imam's throat and he's looking shit scared.
The holy man should know better than to try and creep up on me while I'm asleep. I take the blade off slowly, reluctantly. Imam takes a step back and swallows.
Did you want something, I say quietly because Jack's still spark out.
We are approaching Helion system, Imam tells me.
Imam nods and says, you have been asleep since I woke, eleven hours ago.
I can see his eye's stray over to Jack worriedly. I know what he's thinking but I don't give a shit. The man's going to give himself a heart attack over that girl one of these days.
I pull my arm out from under Jack's head and get out of the bunk. As always, she turns onto her stomach. I wait for a moment or two in case she wakes up.
She doesn't. I've gotta admit I'm a bit disappointed. As long as she's asleep Imam's probably going to read me the riot act.
Sometimes this arrangement feels like a very civilized divorce. Imam won't say a bad thing about me in front of Jack but he's happy to politely point out my faults, all the reasons why I'm bad for her, when we're out of earshot.
He starts as soon as I'm sat in the pilots chair.
You shouldn't encourage her, he says in an unhappy tone, it will be harder for her when you are gone.
Like I said, I don't want to get into this again so I pull up our location on the nav-computer and start to plot our course to Helion prime
Riddick, she is thirteen, he tells me again. This is one of his favorite lines and he always troops it out when I do something he disapproves of. He spent a lot of time repeating that when I started to teach her to fight.
In any case Jack only says she thirteen. She said she was a boy too. Doesn't mean it's true.
I can feel Imam's eyes on me. He's tense. I know that he's got an opinion on me sleeping with Jack but he's still too rattled to task me about it.
The computer fires back an ETA. Soon this is going to be over.
Wake Jack up, I say, we land in three hours.
Imam knows a lot of people in New Mecca and they're the type to be into charity and shit so it doesn't take long to find them a place to stay. It's just a couple of rooms in some cleric's compound but it seems to be safe enough.
Jack's not that impressed.
She's been quiet since we got here and she's been watching me like I'm about to take off any second. She keeps picking fights with me, keeps storming out so I have to go find her ass and haul her back.
She's not making it easy on me. Gotta approve of that.
We have the same argument a couple of times a day. She gets a new angle on it every time.
She's on the sofa now, arms around her shins and her chin on her knees. The look she's giving me is all wide-eyed and pathetic.
That protective side rears up again. Problem is that the animal side of me wants to take her with me and never let her out of my sight.
It's not safe. She's heard it before but it bears repeating.
Liar, she accuses. The whole world thinks you're dead – it's never going to be safer than it is now. I can't stop you from leaving me but don't you dare lie to me about it.
I'm not going to argue with her. I'm not going to get into all the reasons it's a bad idea.
It isn't safe, and not just because of mercs.
I'm not safe.
I can't stand her staring at me so I leave. On the way out I pass Imam. He sees the look on my face and guesses what's happened. He leaves his friend and walks up to me.
It should be soon, Riddick. You're breaking her heart.
The man's is way too melodramatic.
I hear a door slam from the direction of Jack's room.
Well, maybe not.
I'm on it, I tell him. He just nods tightly and I know he's thinking about the fall out. I don't blame him for getting twitchy about it. Jack might be all sweetness and light if she's in a good mood but I have no doubt that she's capable of being a complete bitch.
Imam nods again. He wants rid of me. He'd never say it but he does.
I'm outside before he can tangle me up in one of his lectures. I've got things to do. Leaving Jack isn't as straight forward as all that. I don't want her following me. Which means I have to distract her from what's happening.
I visit this chemist. Don't know why but I'm a little surprised to find her sort here of all places. But she's good. She's gets me exactly what I ask for and doesn't ask questions.
When I get back Jack's passed out, face down on what's now her bed. I watch her for a few hours before going to the kitchen and making up breakfast. Jack eats like she's never seen a proper meal. She'll take anything you put in front of her.
That's what I'm counting on.
As I'm mixing the powder into her juice I realize just what kind of bastard I am. This is the cold calculating shit that those slams shrinks are always on about. I know the drill by now and this is classic sociopathic logic.
At least on the surface of it. If I really was a sociopath I'd just kill her, right?
When dawn breaks Jack stumbles into the kitchen rubbing her eyes. She looks at me and frowns.
Don't you ever sleep?
Sure, I tell her, a couple of times a year.
She gives me a drowsy laugh and sits down opposite me. She grabs toast and cereal and whatever else she can see. It takes a while for her to trough her way through it all but when she does she pours herself a glass of juice.
Hey, Riddick, she says between sips, I'm going to miss you. Who's going to watch me sleep when you're gone?
Damned if that doesn't peel me wide open.
Luckily she's already taken the juice. I wonder if poison is sufficiently Shakespearian for Jack's taste. It's a shame I'll never know.
I'll miss you too, kid, I admit. No point in denying it now. I get up and run a hand over her hair. She smiles up at me and it's like the sun just came out from behind a raincloud.
Then that smile breaks and she gasps, clutching her stomach. Cold sweat beads on her brow and she groans. I catch her as she slumps.
When I put her on the bed I wait for her to roll over but she she just lies there, breathing heavily.
She's in for about three weeks of this. Enough time for me to scrub the trail clean, swap ships and make myself a ghost.
Imam has a rough idea where I'm heading but I know he'll never tell Jack. I don't know if he'll be able to get her to accept the life he wants for her but I know she'll never even consider it if I'm in the picture.
Now comes the hard part. It takes almost half an hour before I make it out of the room, before I convince myself that she's okay and she'll get over it. In fact, I can't bring myself to leave the building until I hear Imam and the other clerics return.
Imam is calling for Jack. Soon he'll find her and he'll take care of her.
I don't really register the journey to the spaceport. It's just another plan that seems to be going off without a hitch. The skiff's all prepped and ready to go. It feels a strange; it still smells of Jack and I'll be happy to get rid of the damn thing.
I'm on auto pilot as I get clearance and power up to take off.
Then it's like setting a bone or pulling a tooth. The wrench is quick but brutal.
The animal side of me howls in protest.
The human side is relieved.