Life in the emergency space craft wasn't easy.
Space was limited and that made things tough even though everyone was trying hard to make it work. Gambit and Riddick had taken to sleeping in the pilot and navigator chairs up in the cockpit. Fry and Suleiman each had one of the bunks because of their injuries. The rest of them just tried to make do with sleeping on the cold hard floor. Zeke and Shazza usually curled up together and Hassan curled up next to Imam. More often than not, Jack ended up shyly crawling into Gambit's lap and falling asleep.
Gambit was torn between being glad the boy felt comfortable enough to fall asleep curled up on his lap and being sad that the child felt safest and had the strongest connection with a world class thief and a hunted serial killer. Especially when the other two choices were a Holy man with children of his own and a married couple that were kind and generous despite their gruff exterior.
Jack's obvious choice of Gambit and Riddick as protectors and pseudo parents said lots about his life before now and none of it was good.
Another problem that made things so difficult was the limited food and water. The cargo hold of the ship wasn't very big at all, but they'd had room left over when they escaped the planet. Storage space wasn't the reason for the limited food situation. No, that problem was actually a carryover from the planet itself.
The Hunter-Gratzner had only a tiny food supply as the passengers and crew were meant to spend the vast majority of the journey in stasis. There was literally no need to fill the holds with food. And what little it did carry had been lost when Fry dumped that first cargo hold and had either burned up in atmo or had been strewn the length and breadth of the continent. Either way, it was gone for good.
The settlement they'd found hadn't had much in the way of food either. What plants the settlers had managed to cultivate had long since died away and the freeze dried rations had been limited.
Shazza's team had been able to gather up quite a lot of water and all of the food, but that wasn't much to start with. Unfortunately, most of it needed to be added to water and cooked. They didn't have a way to do that, so they were eating cold goopy rehydrated freeze-dried food. That wasn't something that tempted anyone's appetite.
The ship had a small ration of energy bars and energy drinks, but they lacked any sort of taste whatsoever and didn't really fill a body up.
The worst part of this whole mess was the situation with Suleiman and Fry though. Unsatisfied bellies could be ignored. The tight quarters could be adapted to if people were willing to be polite and understanding. It was a whole other matter to watch two people writhe in pain and slip deeper and deeper into illness and not be able to do a single thing about it.
Suleiman and Fry were both suffering from their injuries. It was getting worse with each day as each of them developed a raging infection in their wounds. Fry's fever was dangerously high and her pulse was thready. They were going to lose her if they didn't get her to a medical facility fast.
Gambit wasn't really surprised by this turn of events even though he'd been too exhausted and mentally strung out to think of it before he'd collapsed back on the planet. Their first aid kit was just that, and it didn't have half the things they needed to treat such nasty injuries.
A vicious and pragmatic voice in the back of Gambit's head told him that he should have just taken John's advice and put Fry out of her misery back on the planet. They only had a limited amount of fever reducers and antibiotics with them and neither of those medications were very strong. While he wasn't a doctor, Gambit had spent enough time in both Sinister's and Beast's labs to know that if they had given all of the antibiotics to Suleiman than maybe the boy would be doing better. On the other hand, they didn't have anything to give Fry the help she needed.
The guilt of that thought and the weight of the responsibility sitting on his shoulders made him want to hit the gym and lift weights for hours or head down to the Danger Room and spar with Logan. That was impossible though. They didn't even have the space for him to work through a few opened handed katas without his staff, let along going all out with physical exertion like he wanted.
And just to make a bad situation even worse, the emergency ship was straining to do the job they needed it too. Even with keeping the life support at its lowest possible setting, things were dire. The ship had sat on that planet in the heat and dust of the desert for over two decades without any maintenance at all and the power cells it was running off of weren't the right size or kind.
They were still losing as much juice as they used and the air scrubbers were struggling to clean the air with so many people breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon-dioxide.
Riddick had pressed both Gambit and Zeke into working as his assistants as he pulled apart various systems and worked on them to fix small problems or repair damaged parts. The cargo hold had a few spare circuits, fuses, rings, and various small odds and ends as well as oil, grease, cleaner, and other fluids so that helped a little.
Still, as much as they did and as hard as they worked to fix things on the fly, it wasn't enough. And they all knew it. All they were doing was delaying the inevitable. They were draining the power cells too fast. Once they were gone, then it was only a matter of moments until everyone was dead.
Imam had wondered if perhaps it would be possible to reach the shipping lanes and then drift, using only a fraction of their remaining power to simply run the life support systems and wait for a ship to pick them up.
Riddick had agreed that was possible, except they had no idea how long they'd have to drift before a ship capable of picking them up arrived in the shipping lane. He didn't know this part of space that well and had no clue how frequently it was used. Fry might know, but they couldn't get her to focus on the issue enough to understand what they were asking. Between her fever and the morphine in her system, she was out of it.
All in all, morale was dangerously low and Gambit kept waiting for someone to panic and make things worse.
Imam must have agreed, because he'd taken to leading group prayers and telling stories from his Holy books that were meant to encourage and inspire hope. They seemed to help Hassan, Suleiman and Shazza, but he, Riddick, Jack, and oddly enough, Zeke were all too jaded to be comforted by the thought of some mysterious and almighty god looking out for them.
In the end, Gambit ended up having to distract and entertain the kids with stories of his life to keep them from getting underfoot with their restlessness and anxiety.
Hassan and Jack had curled up together on the floor of the cockpit between his and Riddick's chair and looked up at him with big eyes. He couldn't help but notice that there were new shadow's in Hassan's eyes and that the ones in Jack's had grown larger. These children had no delusions that they were safe and secure up here in the ship.
"Tell us about the Marauders, Gambit."
Gambit had looked down at them from the circuit he was soldering and smirked.
"Y' both a bit too young t' be hearin' Marauder stories, petit. De Marauders weren't a nice bunch."
Hassan and Jack glanced at each other and then shrugged.
"You're nice." Jack argued.
Gambit shrugged and held out a hand palm down and waggled it back and forth in what meant maybe or perhaps, sometimes.
"Eh, can be. Mais…Gambit be de nicest Marauder ever on de rolls. Most of 'em make Riddick seem nice."
The kids slid their eyes over to Riddick even as the big man snorted in amusement. He looked over at Gambit, a smirk on his lips and a gleam in his eyes.
Gambit opened his mouth to explain what he meant, paused to look down at the children watching him with interest and snapped his mouth shut. He simply nodded with a serious look on his face.
"Yeah. After all, more 'n just y' an' me on dis here ship an' de cargo hold ain't burstin' full of fresh red-blooded meat."
Riddick's eyes went cold and hard before shifting sharply to the children.
Jack and Hassan seemed confused about what he had hinted at and that was a good thing. He wasn't up to explaining Sabertooth's cannibalistic nature or the pragmatic approach most of the Marauders had. They would have killed off the others just to save wear and tear on the life support systems and to reserve more food and water rations for themselves.
"And you ran with that pack of lunatics?"
Gambit snorted and offered up a nasty grin.
"Gambit de one dat put de team t'gether. He built de Marauders from de ground up on de orders of his boss."
Riddick's cold eyes shifted back to Gambit.
"That so?" It was the same words as before, but this time the flirtiness was gone and the tone was cold and wary.
Gambit nodded slowly, his nerves winding tight from a combination of bad memories and Riddick's own guarded tension.
"Didn't stay too long, though. I has a conscience an' dere are lines dat I won't cross. De boss ordered a mission dat crossed dose lines an' I left."
"What do you mean?"
Gambit looked down into Jack's confused eyes.
"What did he want you guys to do?"
For a moment he struggled to find an answer to the boy's question. He didn't want to lie, but for all of Jack's street-wise ways, he wasn't ready to hear the truth.
"Eh…de Marauders as a team had all de skills needed t' be de perfect hunter-killer team an' wit' a bit of trainin' an' discipline could'a turned inta de best paramilitary team around…even takin' int' account de various mental health issues de members all had."
He shrugged and his eyes lost focus as he gazed into the past and the original Gambit's memories.
"Dere was dis government sponsored program dat was kidnappin' people an' experimentin' on dem called Weapon X. I had tangled wit' dem on a job for de Guild an' t'ree of de Marauders were former prisoners of dat program. Gambit thought dat de ultimate goal was t' attack Weapon X an' free de rest of de prisoners an' steal all dere records an' data."
"But it wasn't, was it?" It was Riddick's deep and rumbling voice that asked that and Gambit looked over at him, an old pain buried deep in his eyes.
Gambit stared unfocused as he relived traveling through the Morlock tunnels under New York City and the horrific battle that followed.
"De boss sent us t' hit a soft target instead. It was a slaughter."
Gambit looked up and over at Riddick. He saw his own pain and shame echoed in the bigger man's eyes and knew that he understood.
"Some of de Marauders were professional about it. De other's though…they reveled in de carnage an' dat was de last straw for m'. I left right den an' dere."
"What's a soft target?"
Once again, Gambit was reminded of the children and looked down to see two curious faces looking up at him. He smiled softly and reached out a hand to tousle the boy's hair.
Leaning back in his chair, Gambit ignored the question and went on with the story…such as it was.
"So. Dere I was, in de middle of dis city far from de Guild an' wit' no direction now dat I wasn't wit' de Marauders an' wonderin' what de hell t' do wit' m'self. An' t' be honest, I was angry as all hell over de…massacre an' wanted t' try an' make things right. Only, dere was no one left t' make things right wit'."
"So…one night when Gambit was half drunk an' feelin' no pain he came up wit' dis plan. He was gonna target all de assholes dat was fundin' his ol' boss an' rob dem blind."
The children giggled at the naughtiness of stealing and the hint of danger, but Riddick's expression was shrewd and knowing.
"Did it help?"
Gambit glanced over at him and shrugged. They both knew that it hadn't eased his guilt at all or stopped the nightmares from haunting his sleep.
"Made an obscene amount of money, homme. Dat always helps."
The children giggled some more even as Riddick smirked, but the dark pain still hadn't left his eyes and Gambit knew that Riddick understood what he hadn't said.
Then Gambit's smile grew bigger and much more genuine.
"Den, when I was in de middle of a job I ran int' Stormy. Literally. She was workin' de same job tryin' t' make enough money t' escape de people chasin' her."
He grinned down at Jack.
"She wasn't dat much older den y', petit."
Jack frowned slightly as if wondering where she was, but then shrugged and grinned.
"Then what happened?"
Gambit chuckled and shook his head fondly.
"Took her as m' apprentice an' vowed t' teach her all I knew about de art of t'ievin'. Only, mon Stormy, she had her own ideas, heh?"
He rolled his eyes and grinned.
"Insisted I take her home t' her family up north. So, Gambit did just that only t' find out her family be one of de most notorious an' wanted freedom fighter groups in de world."
Riddick snorted in amusement.
"Only you, Remy. Only you could escape a group of feral mercs and end up with another bunch of fighters."
Gambit grinned in real amusement.
"It gets better. De X-Men an' de Marauders were sworn enemies by dis time."
"Oh no!" That was Jack, all excited and worried and completely caught up in the story. "What did you do?"
"I stayed wit' de X-Men, of course."
He shook his head in fond remembrance.
"Dey were so naive about some t'ings. I reworked dere security something fierce. And dey were so idealistic and full of optimism. Dey wanted t' make de world a better place for everyone an' dey didn't like t' compromise dere morals."
He shrugged and rolled his eyes.
"While dat was a nice and comfortin' thing, especially after de incident wit' m' old team, I really did think dat dey would all end up dead one day 'cause dey trusted de wrong person. And since dey didn't believe in killin', dere enemies just kept comin' back again an' again."
Riddick tilted his head in thought.
"Sounds a bit like Imam."
"Although, wit' de X-Men I finally got t' fight against Weapon X, so dat was nice. Didn't mind goin' up against de Brotherhood despite de fact dat my wife's Guild worked wit' dem a lot an' I had friends dere. Was always torn fightin' de Marauders. Hated de boss an' didn't like some members, but other's were good friends."
"So…why do you still call yourself a Marauder and still wear their armor if you left them?"
Gambit grinned down at Jack and chucked him under the chin.
"Gambit joined t'ree groups in his life; de T'ieves Guild, de Marauders, and de X-Men. All t'ree of de groups is membership for life. And over de course of time, I did jobs for all t'ree groups, acted as leader of all t'ree groups, an' refused t' be part of various missions for all t'ree groups."
"Sounds like quite the balancing act."
Gambit looked over at Riddick and rolled his eyes in mild exasperation.
"Y' have no idea, homme." He chuckled. "It weren't so bad as time went on, but at first it were no picnic. Oddly enough, de two Guilds were de easiest despite me an' Bella gettin' a divorce an' not havin' no children. Once de t'ieves an' assassins got dere heads wrapped around de alliance, dey worked hard t' make it work an' Bella ran de United Guild wit' an' iron fist in a velvet glove."
"Non, de problems came mostly from de X-Men an' de Marauders. Both teams wanted m' an' weren't willin' t' share. Didn't trust Essex's goals an' de X-Men tended t' fall apart if'n t'ings got too bloody. It took both groups a long time t' accept dat Gambit walked his own path between de t'ree groups an' t' trust him t' not betray any of dem."
Riddick paused to look at him and Gambit could practically see the wheels turning behind his eyes. Something was confusing him and he couldn't work it all out.
"Explain something to me, Remy."
Riddick blinked and then pierced him with a serious look.
"Just how old are you? 'Cause you don't look that old, yet you'd have to have some serious years behind you for all of what you've been saying to happen."
Gambit paused and licked his lips. He didn't really want to get into the whole mess with him being a clone of a real man that had lived centuries ago. He didn't even like thinking about it, partly because of superstitions regarding the state of his soul…if he even had one anymore, and partly because it made him feel less…real.
Yet Riddick had a point. His memories stopped at the age of 72. By that time, he was the sole acknowledged Guildmaster of the North American Untied Guild as the New Orleans chapter had managed to absorb all the other independent chapters by then. He was also one of the oldest surviving X-Men with only Logan, Rictor, Bobby, and Sam being alive from the old days. And of those five; Logan, Bobby and Sam were effectively immortal due to their mutations.
By that point, he was actively funding the X-Men and running an international corporation as well as the Guild. Sinister had gone mostly underground with his studies and was being funded by a group over in China, so Gambit had taken on the Marauders as well. He sent them in as troupes in situations where an assassin wouldn't be enough and the X-Men just wouldn't do.
For roughly a decade there, he had been the most wealthy and powerful man on the planet. Governments and international corporations as powerful as governments had feared and respected him. It was so easy to see how he could have turned out like the Witness in Bishop's dystopian version of the future, but Gambit had worked hard not to become the Witness and Rictor had helped greatly with that. Still, he had been…harder and more jaded than the street-wise thief he'd once been.
At that time, Sam and Bobby were running the X-Men together and Logan…well, he spent a lot of time up in the Canadian mountains in an effort to ignore the fact that he wasn't aging and the vast majority of his friends, teammates, and even enemies were dead or were close to dying of old age.
All those memories rolled around his head and he could very nearly see and hear them again. Yet they didn't mesh with the strong body and young face he now wore. He could easily understand Riddick's confusion. He shared it. And he couldn't begin to count how many times he'd looked in the mirror and been shocked to see a young man's face instead of the weathered and worn visage of an old man.
"Dat's a long an' complicated story."
An alarm began to blare shrilly and several lights on the cockpit's console began to flash.
"A story dat will have t' wait till another time."