Bodies are supposed to shut down in cryo-sleep. Down until there's nothing awake. Nothing but the 'animal' side, some people say. He'd never 'slept' in cryo-sleep. Not the way other people did anyway. Awake the whole ride. Awake, aware, and thinking. Honestly, these mercs and Company idiots thought he came up with his escape plans on the fly? Alright, yes, some of them. Those ones tended to not go quite so well. Any escape plan that actually worked – perfectly mind you – generally took some time to cook up.
Once he'd figured out some ten ways to slip his restraints, Riddick turned his mind to his, ah... 'fellow passengers' aboard the Hunter Gatzner. Worthless piece of shit antiques dealer, possibly a smuggler. Pathetic little man stank of dust, good liquor, cigars, and perfume. Actual fucking perfume. Might have something interesting in his cargo though. That antique stuff from Earth sold for quite a bit these days. Didn't much matter what it was or if it worked, as long as it was genuine. If the smell of the good booze on the man was anything to go by, he probably had some of that along for this ride as well – and a drink was always worth its weight.
There was the holy man, and his three boys that spoke only Arabic. Not sure what religion, he didn't pay much attention to that kind of stuff, but there was incense in how they smelled. Either headed for an abbey somewhere or New Mecca. Man without a wedding ring but three boys, he was probably headed for New Mecca in the Helion System. Safe place to raise kids as well as full of pious people. Very much a Core sort of planet though – maybe it wasn't full of Alliance Purple Bellies and Company Blue Hands, but it was still very much a Core sort of planet.
Then again, despite it being a ghost lane, this boat was being tugged along by Company Blue Hands as well. Alright, not really, but as far as he was concerned it was near enough it made no difference anyway – the Blue Hands were an elite bit of militant security. These three were just flight details. Blue uniforms of the Company, but not Blue Hands of course. They only came in twos. Still worked for the Blue Sun Corporation though, so it all boiled down to the same pile of stinking and warm. Three of them for this flight, and they were in cryo-lockers as well. Some crew, not even taking in the black and being careful of the dangers of travelling the ghost lanes.
As opposed to Johns, who'd caught him for long enough to strap him into his high-security cryo-locker where he wasn't sleeping. Johns wore the Company blue, wore the tin badge of their enforcers. It was a sham though. Bastard was a merc and that was all there was to it. As far as the man was concerned, Riddick was a pay-day, not a person. He might talk laws, and moralistic bull, but he was a merc and the creed was greed. That simple.
There were another three who weren't though. Simple, that is. A man and a woman, smelling so much like each other they had to be involved, since they sure as hell weren't related. Not from what he could see of them anyway. Woman was pale with dark hair and angular features, man was darker skinned, round faced, and he was beginning to grey. Smell of sweat, dust, wood and metal... boots, tools and leather, prospectors was his guess. People who might actually be worth their weight. Very few people could say that of themselves these days.
Which left the last one in the foremost passenger compartment with the rest of them – there were more in other sections of the ship, but what concern of his were they? Another kid, but this one not with the holy bunch. Just on puberty, and riding alone. Running away from home, maybe genuinely headed for somewhere else where people would be waiting for the kid, but he was more inclined to believe the former than the latter. This wasn't a Core kid, or not a well-off one if they had been. No, this kid was from a Rim planet, and headed for a Rim planet. Probably looking for work and a new life away from the rock that the Hunter Gatzner had taken off from – since he doubted the kid had the fare to have jumped rock to where they'd taken off from, just to jump off it again. Hell, there was a good chance the kid was a stow-away.
A series of pops from the front end caught his attention. Pops like metal hitting metal. Well, it seemed they were either under attack – Reavers was a possibility out in a ghost lane, even if it was a Company shipping lane – or they'd come too close to something in the black that wasn't black, like space junk or a planet. Possibly even both. Gravity was on again though, either way. Being held suspended in a cryo-chamber didn't mean he hadn't felt that kick in after all.
Captain was dead, apparently. First words out of the woman's mouth. Saw him die, she said to the other guy who fell out of his pod. The guy who was more harping on having fallen at all. Then again, he'd noticed that normal people weren't always all there when they were jarred out of cryo-sleep. It was interesting, in an abstract sort of way, to hear them talking about it being weeks before they should have woken up. Amusing to hear the man beg an unnamed deity – one that he probably didn't believe in most of the time at that – to show him the lights of the shipping lane. He was glad of his blindfold when the woman open the blast shield to a view of what looked like fire. He shook his head in mild disgust when he finally heard their names. Owens and Fry. Person with a name like 'Fry' being a pilot was just about asking for trouble.
God had a sense of humour after all. Not one that the regular people found funny a lot of the time either.
The ship shook as the docking pilot tried to be a real pilot. Girl didn't know how to deal with this shit, and it showed. Couldn't get the ship levelled even when she started to purge the cargo. He considered slipping free and pushing her out of the pilot's seat. He was a survivor after all. Dying without putting in an effort to otherwise wasn't his style. On the other hand, that Owens guy made sure Fry couldn't purge the passengers by jamming open the air-lock between the cockpit and the cryo-bay, so she was going to damn well try and save them all – because 'them all' included her own tiny rear now – and inside a cryo-chamber was a pretty good place to be to survive a crash.
Maybe not stuff that was shooting through the thick glass. The captain was dead after all, but otherwise the lockers were pretty good at keeping the people inside from getting dead.
Some people even argued that cryo-status slowed ageing. After all, you came out exactly the same as when you went in. Even him. Riddick was probably one of very few people who actually felt the difference of being in a cryo-chamber though, being awake while on ice, as it were. He'd even heard of some very rich, very vain Core women who slept in cryo-chambers so that they didn't age in their sleep, staying younger for longer.
It sure didn't help cure hypes of their addictions, evidenced by Johns perfectly. He was in long cryo-sleeps often enough that, really, if the cryo didn't keep the drugs in his system, then he should have been well flushed of the morphine he shot into his own eyeballs. Smokers didn't get over the nicotine addictions either, apparently. But what would he know about that sort of shit?
It was quite the crash when it happened. Popped the door of his cryo-locker open, neat as you please. Killed a lot of people. Ones he'd taken the time to note had all survived, with just one exception that was unfortunately not Johns. The navigation officer Owens. Poor bastard. Saved them all from Fry getting happy with the purge lever, and ended up dead. Well, dying for what he believed in, at least the man probably wasn't going to hell after that.
Kids were trapped in their cryo-cells. The holy man and the prospector couple were looking for ways to pry the doors open. Panic, not hysteria yet, but definitely frantic to make sure that everybody they could see was alive. He slipped his chains, and his bit, and swapped his blindfold for a pair of goggles so that he would be able to see despite all the sun in this place, then headed straight for the nearest stuck cryo-locker and just pulled the door open. Save the time cutting the kids out. Save resources too. In a desert where it was about survival, every resource needed to be used sparingly.
"Guess I don't need to fire this up then," commented the darker-skinned man with a slight smile as he held up the cutting torch he'd just found amongst the wreckage.
Riddick smirked back. "Guess not," he agreed, and moved to wrench open the next one.
"I'm Zeke, this's my woman, Shazza," the man introduced as he pulled the junk off the top of the next cryo-locker so Riddick could wrench it open, nodding to the prospector woman beside him to indicate just who Shazza was.
Riddick nodded in appreciation of the introductions, forced the door open, then extended his hand to shake with Zeke's. "Riddick, pleased to have crashed with you," he offered with some degree of dry, sarcastic humour.
Zeke and Shazza both laughed anyway, despite the horrible circumstances, and Zeke showed off his white teeth as he accepted Riddick's hand.
"What d'you do for a living? Apart from rescue kids from cryo-lockers?" Shazza asked as the kid in the cryo-locker rolled out.
Riddick looked down at the kid for a moment. The brat who was travelling alone in a ghost lane with likely aim to leave the Rim – or at least life of poverty – behind. "Git," he ordered in a low rumble, jerking his head towards the holy man and his three boys.
The kid got off the floor and scurried away.
"I'm a killer," Riddick answered Zeke once the kid was out of earshot, calm as you please. "Used to work for the Company, keeping miners safe by being bait for monsters or killing monsters while someone else was being bait. Then I found out one of the higher up bastards was raping miner's daughters. Took exception to that. Alternated being a convict and an escaped convict ever since, frequently with title of 'murderer' between times," he explained.
Shazza was wide-eyed and her jaw had fallen open a bit. Zeke swallowed and visibly steeled himself.
"Can see why you didn't want the kid hearing that," Zeke decided at last.
"You won't be killing us when we're not lookin' I hope," Shazza said, trying to smile despite the unpleasant shock of being told this smiling man was a killer – from his own mouth.
Riddick chuckled lowly. "Hard working folk like you?" he asked with a smile. "Not my style. I only aim my shivs at Company bastards and mercs like Johns over there who's aiming to tie me up again," Riddick answered with a nod towards where said merc was stalking through the ruined hallways of the Hunter Gatzner. "Bastard likes using kids as bait too. That's how he caught me this time. Even cons have their codes."
"Merc?" Zeke asked, looking around for the man in question.
"He's wearing copper blue," Shazza countered, confused.
Riddick shook his head. "Naw," he disagreed with a smile. "He's a hype and a merc, but he enjoys flashin' that tin badge of his and letting other people believe he's a genuine Fed."
The couple both nodded slowly, letting that information settle into their brain-pans. It wasn't pleasant information to have, knowing that the man with the gun in their vicinity was a merc on drugs.
"Creed is greed," Shazza and Zeke both said lowly, sharing a look.
"We know the type," Zeke said with a solemn nod to Riddick. "What's your price?"
"It's a big number – and I'm worth twice as much alive than I am dead," Riddick answered them lowly, only not giving a straight figure because he never really hung around long enough to hear the numbers himself. He was big leagues though, and he knew it. "Same as you two are worth a hell of a lot more alive than dead right now," he added with a slight smirk. "Don't think anyone else who survived knows how to do anything useful."
Shazza and Zeke both awarded him lop-sided grins in answer to Riddick's vaguely humorous stroke to their egos. A scream – male, pained – coming from the cockpit drew their attention sharply from their little conversation.
"Excuse me if I stay out of sight," Riddick said with a polite nod to both of them before he headed the opposite direction of the screaming. Let them be sociable and get to know the other survivors – he was going to be busy laying a false trail for Johns to chase and scavenging anything that looked useful, or looked like it could be made useful. He had no intention of dying in his desert. Not if he could help it. Even if he had to rebuild the ship from scratch just to get him off this rock, he was getting off. Way too much sun in this place for him to be comfortable. The dark, that was where he belonged. Whether that meant out in the black or on a planet down a mine shaft or just living as some nocturnal creature on a terraformed moon or planet that had a regular day-night cycle and enough space for him to get away from civilisation, with all the lights, and the brightness, and everything that was wrong in the world existing right there but no one bothering to see it.
Some decent looking scrap metal got picked up. He'd find somewhere quiet to sit for a while and shape a few shivs. Stay with the craft was the normal sense when in a desert, so that was what he intended to do, for now. They were going to have to go looking for water soon though, and food not long after that he suspected, so there would almost definitely be a party going out to search for said necessities before too long. He wasn't going to waste his energy going anywhere until whoever went came back with news.
He'd carved three shivs as he listened to the discussions going on. The suggestion was made to form a search party, go looking for other survivors. A suggestion that was put down by all when they saw the line drawn in the sand by the remains of the Hunter Gatzner as it came down. With pieces of the ship scattered along the great furrow as well. If there were any other survivors out there, they were probably in even worse shape than those upright and present – meaning everybody but Owens.
Zeke demanded to know what the hell had happened as soon as Fry joined them. Demanded the knowledge from her. Man should really just be grateful it wasn't Reavers. A few bolts pinging, getting them down on this damn rock, better than being eaten alive any day for reasons to suddenly be out of the sky.
Once Johns, Fry, and the holy man and his boys had left in search of settlement and water – with Johns believing that they were also heading in the direction of Riddick – the big man himself stepped out from where he'd been quietly shaping shivs from scrap in the shade. Zeke had hauled the two dead bodies out of the cabin, all wrapped up and looking like he was going to bury them.
"Don't go too hard at it," Riddick said lowly as he grabbed the pull rope for one of the bodies and walked along side the darker man. "People are buried so the living don't smell them and animals don't eat them. Not too worried about the latter."
Zeke nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "Johns is pulling the law-man bit," he added in a conversational tone as he pulled the other body. "Handed me his side-arm to shoot you with, and Paris up there pretending he's on lookout got out all these antique weapons. The boy you pulled out of the cryo-locker though, Jack 'is name is, think you might be 'is new hero."
Riddick chuckled. "Made a few shivs since I saw you -"
"You work fast then," Zeke commented as he rolled his dead body over the edge of the scar in the sand the Hunter Gatzner had made.
Riddick smiled his dangerous smile and continued like he hadn't been interrupted. "Might give one to the kid, show how to use it."
Zeke chuckled. "He'll be rapt," he stated, and watched as Riddick dumped the other body beside the first, then started pushing dirt over the wrapped corpses. "Well," he said as he straightened up with a grunt. "Guess we start scavenging from the crash now," he declared.
"Want to find a comms unit," Riddick rumbled. "Get a wave out, see if I can't flag down an honest, disreputable, rescue party."
"You don't like it here?" Zeke asked, feigning surprise, then he smiled. "Reminds me of home," he added, a bit nostalgically.
"Place has three fucking suns," Riddick answered, his voice low and rumbling. "Not enough atmosphere to breathe properly. Getting acclimatised, but the fuck I'm makin' a holiday house on this rock."
Zeke flashed his white teeth in amusement. "Shazza's workin' on making some oxygen tanks, give us back that half lung we're all feelin' like we're missin'," he informed the very dangerous man he was walking with.
"He'd probably get you right here, under the jaw, and you'd never even hear him coming, because that's how good Riddick is," a young voice said from the top of the crashed cockpit.
Zeke and Riddick both looked up to see Jack with an antique hunting boomerang held close to the neck of the man who owned it.
"Naw kid," Riddick called up with a smile. "Unnecessary movement to reach around the guy. Straight for the spine if you're comin' up from behind and they don't know you're there."
"Riddick!" Jack exclaimed, a bright grin on the kid's face to see him standing there with Zeke, not hurting anyone.
"Come down here brat," Zeke called with a smile. "Big Bad here's agreed to teach the Rim-brat how to use a shiv."
Jack didn't need telling twice, and practically ran down the side of the ruined ship. "Really?" Jack asked excitedly, coming to a halt in front of them, practically bouncing in place.
"Really kid," Riddick answered, laying a big hand over the kid's hat and messing with it and the hair underneath by proxy. "Always useful to know how to properly handle a shiv," he said firmly, and pulled out a couple from his pockets, flipping one around in his hand so that it was handle-wise to the kid.
"Awesome," Jack breathed, reverently accepting the blade made from scrap metal.
Shazza and Zeke both joined the lessons whenever they felt like taking a break from scavenging the wreckage, both keenly aware that a shiv was a useful sort of weapon that was easy to carry and easy to hide. Paris silently remained on his fold-out chair beneath his sun-umbrella, alternately fanning himself and drinking his very expensive alcohol. When Jack lunged, Riddick dodged, and laughed as she failed to properly stop her own forward momentum.
"You're gonna have to compensate for that more as you grow girl," he rumbled lowly in Jack's ear as he plucked the shiv lightly from her hand. He'd noticed it in the way Jack held herself as he'd been teaching her to fight. Of course, he wasn't going to blow the whistle on her or anything. He knew the sorts of trouble kids travelling alone could get into, and it was worse for girls than boys – it was part of why he had such an extensive list of murders to his name. No man in the slam stood for child molesters. They just didn't last. They died even quicker when he found them.
"You won't tell will you?" Jack asked quickly, lowly, wide-eyed and blushing slightly in fear.
"Naw kid," Riddick answered, messing with her hat over her hair again as he handed the girl back the shiv. "You got Big Bad as a big brother now, I'll look out for you."
Jack smiled gratefully in answer, and was the first to spot a figure stumbling up to them.
"Hey," she said, raising a hand to shade her vision, trying to see better.
"Good eyes kid," Riddick complimented as he turned to look in the same direction. "Go warn the prospectors."
"What about you?" Jack asked as she tucked her shiv away.
"I'm gonna disappear," Riddick answered with a jerk of his head in the direction of the ship. "See if I can't find the merc's meds," he added with a dark grin.
Jack chuckled and sprinted off in the direction of Shazza and Zeke.
Riddick vanished into the shadows of the crashed ship just as the scouting party returned – in time for Johns to shoot the stranger he mistook for the convict at the distance. The shot wasn't fatal, of course, merc wanted his bounty... except that the man was half-dead already, and the ruined knee-cap on top of the rest was enough for the man to bleed out from in a mortal sort of way.
Riddick heard them talking about discovering an abandoned settlement an hour's walk away, with a skiff that they should be able to adapt the power-cells of the Hunter Gatzner to. He wasn't exactly in the room with the rest of the survivors when he heard them talking about it though. There really is something to be said for there being lots of wrecked metal lying around and all the exposed cables. Made for excellent hiding spaces. Had to say though, he agreed with the holy man. Seriously, just one of the fuel cells? He would personally grab another two and carry them on his shoulders to the settlement, following behind so they wouldn't see him.
Better to have more power where they had the chance of using it. If nothing else, he should be able to get on the comms and send out a wave. If it was bad, he should be able to get out a recorded 'I dare you' message to float across the cortex, letting all the mercs in the 'verse know where he was if they wanted to try and collect his bounty. It would mean a ship showing up on the planet, and he was pretty sure he could convince the dick-wads to rescue a few worthy survivors in exchange for him coming quietly.
When he reached the settlement however, and found their comms room, Riddick couldn't help the devious grin that spread across his face. All that lovely tech, just waiting for him. Dusty, but upon inspection, undamaged. He couldn't think why no one else had tried this building, except that they were all so concerned with an emergency skiff that was only just big enough to fit all of them, and that they would definitely get on each others nerves in that confined space until they were picked up.
"Hey," Jack called from behind him.
"How'd you find me?" Riddick asked, his pleased grin still in place.
Jack snorted in amusement. "Even you leave tracks in the sand," she answered with a smile. "I'm just the only one lookin' for 'em. This stuff still work?" the girl asked, leaving the door-frame behind and walking over to look at the communication equipment over Riddick's shoulder.
"Oh yeah," Riddick answered smoothly turning back to the decks and flipping a whole lot of switches in a complicated sequence before finally starting with the button pushing that went with actually dialling a wave transmission.
"Who are you and how did you get this frequency?" a voice demanded from a speaker moments before cameras kicked in and the screen fired up.
"I sure as hell didn't look it up in the interplanetary phone-book, 'Verse," Riddick quipped with a curling smile as the screen flickered to life and ultimately displayed a man with dark curls and a confused frown on his face.
"Richard!" the little man cried with delight, his frown abruptly becoming a bright smile, like a child who has been presented with a large bag of sweets.
Jack blinked in surprise. She didn't think there were a whole lot of people who called Riddick by his first name, or were happy to get a wave from him. Escaped convict and murderer after all.
"Jack," Riddick said, turning to her. "This is Mr Universe. 'Verse, this here's Jack."
"Pleased to meet you," Mr Universe said, with a nod to Jack. "Now Richard, what ever are you waving me about? Though I am simply thrilled to hear from you, and for that matter, where are you waving me from? The picture is absolutely terrible – and the signal!"
"Well, I'm having to relay it offa several satellites," Riddick answered. "Don't think I'm really in range of your moon, 'Verse. Was on a ship headed for Slam, Johns caught up to me again. It crashed on this rock, and I'm just that lucky there was a comms building in a ghosted settlement near the crash site that actually works."
"Wow," Mr Universe allowed, calming down a little bit at all that news. "I take it that young man curiously hovering over your shoulder as we speak is another of the survivors of this crash."
Riddick nodded, not bothering to correct the man's mistaken assumption of Jack's gender. "I'd appreciate it, 'Verse, if you could get a fix on this rock and send around a ship to pick us up. There's three fucking suns here 'Verse," he said, repeating his most serious complaint against the planet.
Mr Universe chuckled, amused by Riddick's frustration. "I'm following the signal back to your location, and there are a few ships I can wave to collect you in the next forty-eight hours or so, but how many survivors are there, and is there any surviving cargo these crews could sell off to pay for this rescue mission?"
"Well, at the moment there's us," Riddick said, looking at Jack. "And the two prospectors."
"Imam and his three boys as well, makes eight," Jack added with a non-committal shrug. "Plus the two Core and the merc. Don't really care if Paris, Johns or Fry make it off the rock though, and if Paris doesn't, then there's nothing to stop the crew that saves us from taking his 'rare and valuable' antiques for re-sale."
"Apart from the Core-man collector's stuff, there's an atmospheric water collector, a pile of rocks that might have some value, an emergency skiff the other survivors are working on getting up and working – want off this rock – and there's a whole lot of solar tech lying around here as well, including a sand-cat," Riddick added thoughtfully. "Max of eleven people, whole lot of re-saleable junk."
"To say nothing of the bounty on your head if they feel like collecting," Mr Universe commented with a happy smirk. "Isn't that right, Richard? Not that any slam could hold you, just a point of interest. Imagine: you could scam all the slams in the 'verse. Take a cut of your own bounty when you re-join the crew that brought you in to collect, then move on to be dropped off at the next slam and do it all again."
"I'd rather skip visiting any of the slams if you don't mind, 'Verse," Riddick answered him firmly, and with just a touch of wry humour. Apart from the part where he'd be suffering the honour of being in some ass-hole of a cell, that sounded like it could be fun. "Jack here has expressed an interest in seeing the doctor of Ursa Luna about getting a shine job like mine. Of course, if you know anybody else doing shine jobs anywhere else," he suggested.
Mr Universe laughed happily. "A protégé! How delightful!" he decried as his fingers flew over the many keyboards before him. "Ha!" he declared happily. "I shall let you return to teaching your protégé, Richard. I suggest, if your fellow survivors get that skiff going, that you don't drift too far from the planet."
"Who you sending 'Verse?" Riddick asked with a knowing smile.
"Firefly class ship, called Serenity, an old classmate of mine is the pilot," Mr Universe answered. "Collect all valuables in one location please," he added with a grin. "The captain needs jobs that pay, however much of a hero-type he is."
Riddick chuckled lowly. "Got it," he answered, and shut down the wave. "Come on Jack. Let's get that sand-cat going, and start stealing the core-boy's antiques."
Jack grinned and raced out.
Between the two of them, they got the sand-cat operational in just about record time, and while the others were all more fixated on repairing the skiff and finally having water to drink (both worthy goals considering their situation), Riddick and Jack raced off on the sand-cat back to the crash site, top speed.
There, Jack started dragging stuff out to the sand-cat that Shazza and Zeke had already scavenged, some of it from the ruined cockpit, a lot of it from the cargo crate that had managed to mostly survive and land near them. Riddick started disengaging the cryo-lockers from the busted up remains. Just because he didn't actually sleep in them, didn't mean they weren't damn useful things to have. For now, they'd do a good double-duty of holding all the smaller finds. He also grabbed up a few more power cells.
"Quality booze," Riddick noted when he checked inside a gilded sarcophagus before he shut the lid and hauled the whole thing up and onto the sand-cat. "Nice find Jack," he complimented.
Jack shrugged. "Not exactly a find when it's all we've been drinking until we found water," she answered, but she was smiling anyway.
Riddick smiled back. "Thing's heavy. You did good dragging it out," he told her. "The booze will be appreciated by the guys picking us up, I'm sure – whether they drink it or sell it."
There was a sled piled high with other scavenged property – stuff that had belonged to people who didn't survive the crash, and various bits of tech pulled out of the cockpit – Zeke had made the sled and he and Shazza had piled it high while Riddick had been teaching Jack shiv skills earlier. Some of the stuff that had been found even included cash money, which would be useful after they got picked up.
"Let's get a move on little sister," Riddick ordered with a smile once they were loaded up. "Don't think it will hold much more."
Jack laughed happily and hopped up behind the driver's seat as Riddick took the wheel and got the machine hauling.
"What's all this?" Shazza asked when they got back, looking over the piles of stuff the two had picked up.
"I can't help wondering the same thing," Johns commented, walking up, gun in hand. "Since when has the killer been on friendly terms with the brat?" he asked suspiciously, his great big gun pointed at his great big pay day.
"This guy helped pull the kid out of his cryo-locker," Shazza answered frankly. "Are you telling me this is Riddick?" she asked, putting on a bit of an act, like she hadn't realised he was actually the criminal Johns had told them to be wary of. It was a good act too.
"The guy you said would hang around and skull-fuck us in our sleep?" Jack added, completely disbelieving.
"Now you should know that's a lie, Johns," Riddick said pleasantly. "I've only killed people, sometimes stolen stuff if I've needed to. You're the hype who likes to skull-fuck people in their sleep, not me."
"What?!" demanded a nice little crowd of people who'd shown up behind Johns – Zeke, Paris, and Imam. Two of his boys were with him, but they only spoke Arabic.
"Oh it's you," Paris said with an unhappy drawl, noting Riddick's presence. He knew who the man was, but the murderer had essentially ignored his presence beyond telling Jack to leave him alone and then showing the kid how to use a shiv. "My things!" he said, much more happily when he saw the piles of property that Jack and Riddick had brought from the crash site.
"What did he mean by hype, Johns?" Fry demanded with a growl.
Jack snorted in contempt. "What does a person normally mean when they say 'hype' when they're talking about a person?" she quipped as she hopped down from the sand-cat and unhitched the sled, then started dragging the stuff into the nearest building. She knew better than to bring any of the scavenged stuff into the skiff. The craft clearly had weight limits, so people would probably get nervous if they saw those limits being filled by something not them.
"We gotta get back to the ship, get some more fuel cells for the skiff," Fry decided, dismissing – for now – that Johns was a hype and Riddick was being even vaguely helpful all on his own.
"You all go on ahead," Riddick answered. "Jack an' me will keep unloading here. Catch you up in the sand-cat once we're done here."
"Yeah," Shazza agreed. "We're gonna need the sled for those cells if we're all gonna ride the sand-cat."
"Hell, if we get to the crash site fast enough, could even start carrying those cells back, might meet you on return," Zeke added. "How many of those things we need anyway?" he asked Fry.
"Need five for take-off," she answered shortly.
"Few more than that if you want to have life-support for a good length of time," Riddick said with a shake of his head. "I pulled some cryo-lockers so we'd be able to run it on less life-support than might be needed, but still gonna need some."
"Good point," Paris agreed nervously.
"How many cells have we got up here from the crash site in total?" Fry asked.
"Well, I fried a couple trying to get the comms to work earlier, trying to call for help," Riddick lied easily, nodding over to the communications building in which two perfectly good cells were resting quietly, totally unused as the whole thing also used solar power. "The solar cells for the place were a mess, and then the systems were fried. Plus these and the one you've already got in the skiff."
"So... that's five, but two of them won't work as good if they still work at all," Fry summarised, and took to chewing on her bottom lip as she deliberated.
"Grab as many as we can stand to carry be my suggestion," Shazza said, dismissing the other woman's sums.
"Agreed," her man Zeke answered. "Let's load up on water and head out," he said, shaking his head firmly, deciding that any and all grand-standing around the sand-cat weren't worth the time. "I don't want to stay on this rock any longer than I have to."
"What happened?" Jack asked. "Where's...?" she started, noting that the youngest of Imam's boys was missing.
Imam's jaw tightened and he looked down, clearly grieving.
"Let's just say we found us a very good reason to want to get out of here as fast as we could," Paris said delicately as he fished out his cigars from among the piles that Jack and Riddick had brought from the crash site before he followed after Zeke, a frown on his face.
Fry, Johns, Imam and his boy all silently followed the other two, not wanting to talk about the incident, each for reasons of their own.
"What happened Shazza?" Jack asked.
"Ali got eaten," Shazza answered, "by things we're fairly sure don't like light and more than Big Bad here," she added with a gesture to Riddick, "and there's going to be an eclipse."
"We get this unloaded, we get the cells hooked up, you stay in the skiff with the lights on," Riddick informed Jack solemnly once Shazza had also left. "You're not going to be flying it out of here any time soon, but you'll be safe until I get back or the rescue party arrives."
"Noticed you neglected to mention the rescue party to the others," Jack answered, but otherwise made no indication of disagreement.
"You an' me the only ones know it's coming," Riddick said firmly. "You get as much spoil as you can into that building while it's still light. You don't take chances, you stay in the light, carry some with you just in case you're caught away from the ship when the eclipse happens, and you don't go somewhere dark without waving a torch around ahead of you."
Jack nodded. "I'll be careful," she promised.
Riddick nodded in approval and started hauling the cryo-chambers onto the skiff, as well as the power cells from both the skiff and the comms building while Jack kept up her shifting.
"Little sister," Riddick called once it was just a few heavy things left to get off the sand-cat. "I'll try and keep the prospectors alive, they're useful sorts of people. Ask me nicely, I'll even try and keep the holy man and his boys alive. Only body I'm promisin' to bring back is my own though."
"I understand," Jack answered. "Long as you come back big brother. Never had someone who took the time to teach me anything worth knowing before."
"Never had anyone wanted to learn from me before," Riddick replied. "Raid the bookshelves and the shiny rocks until the sun starts to go down, then get your ass on that skiff and turn the lights on."
Jack nodded once, sharply, and gave Riddick a quick hug before jumping off the sand-cat and running for the buildings.
Riddick started up the sand-cat and hit the dirt, laughing as he went.
Rather than worry, which would have been useless – worry never solved anything after all – Jack chose one of the books that had been left behind by the previous owners of the skiff, sat herself down in the middle of the bay (with all the lights on, since the eclipse had begun) and began to work her way through the old paperback she'd picked. She was half-way through it when the comms unit of the skiff sounded.
"Come in, this is Captain Reynolds of Firefly class Serenity," a slightly distorted but male voice said through the speaker. "Anybody alive down there?"
"Confirmed, Captain Reynolds," Jack answered as she pulled on the headset that had the microphone attached, so that she could actually talk to him. "There's at least one, and my big brother promised me he'd make it back to me even if he couldn't save all the others, which makes two of us."
"We'll be entering atmo in five. Any recommendations for us when coming in for landing?" Reynolds asked, all business-like.
Jack smiled at the tone. "If you've got external lights, turn 'em on Captain," she said earnestly. "We got light-sensitive monsters on the surface of this rock, and the eclipse means they're everywhere. Have weapons at the ready, and land as close to the skiff as you reasonably can," she added. "I've got the cargo all stashed in the building nearest the skiff. Least time out of the light to fetch it being an ideal. Also, the air is thinner. If you've got breathers, you'll most likely want 'em."
"Confirmed," Reynolds echoed back. "We've got your location on our visual, also getting a visual of a small speck of light approximately three miles and closing from your location. See if we can clear the way for them to reach you a little easier."
"Appreciated, Captain Reynolds," Jack answered.
"Jayne, drop a flash," Captain Reynold's voice said, and though it wasn't as loud to Jack's ears, she could tell he hadn't lowered his voice so much as just turned away from the comms unit to give the order.
Jack almost instantly saw the results of this order. A huge white light dropped from upwards from her position, falling and getting brighter as it approached. Cast a light that was easy to see by for a good twenty feet around, and that was light enough to keep the monsters away and hissing in frustration.
"Yes, this time, I'd agree that grenades are probably a justifiable bit of kit," Reynold's voice came again, still distant from the microphone of the comms unit. "Bring her in Wash. Jack, confirm visual."
"Confirmed," Jack answered happily, grinning as she stared out the front of the skiff and watched the much larger ship touch down, and she gladly ran out of the skiff after seeing those cargo bay doors open to reveal well-armed people and more light. No monster was going to grab her up, with all the light they had shining around here now. "Big brother loaded some into the skiff, but most everything is just in here," Jack said, jerking her thumb at the building where she and Riddick had stashed their scavenged booty as she walked towards it and moved to open the door as wide as it could go. "Some of it's kinda heavy," she added.
"Zoe, start up the mule. Don't want our hands full of spoils if whatever monsters are around decide to show up," a handsome man with brown hair – or maybe dark blonde – and blue eyes said, clearly giving an order.
One which was immediately followed by a chocolate-skinned woman. Obviously she was Zoe.
"Captain Reynolds?" Jack guessed.
The man nodded and offered her a smile. "That's me kid. Can you give me a run-down what sort of cargo we're taking on?" he asked.
"Got fuel cells and empty cryo-pods in the skiff," Jack started, jerking her thumb at the craft before she started listing all the stuff she'd been shifting when the three suns were all up, even as she helped to shift it all again. "Probably not gonna be able to retrieve the sand-cat though," she finished. "It's solar, and big brother took it when he went to try and help the other survivors."
Captain Reynolds nodded. "That's fine," he assured her. "You can point us a direction, we'll fly low and pick it up once all this is loaded. Solar-powered buggy is nothing to be sneezed at."
"Everything on but the skiff and its contents," announced a young woman who wore a smiling face and mechanic's overalls, an hour after they'd started. She'd been helping with the unloading side of things, not getting out of the ship at all though.
"We'll grab all we can," Captain Reynold's said. "Never know if the doc might find a good use for cryo-lockers some day."
"Hey, getting his sister out like he did was a good use!" the smiling mechanic objected with a pout.
"Alright, a more normal use then," the captain corrected. "You got any use for power-cells Kaylee?"
The woman, Kaylee apparently, tilted her head to the side and visibly thought about it. "Dunno," she said at last. "I'll have a look at 'em either way, and they might be something else the skiff's got we can take advantage of."
"Take the Bit with you," the captain said as he nodded his agreement. "You're teaching her about engines, see how she does."
"Okay!" Kaylee chirped, then ducked back into the ship and came back out with another girl – the Bit, Jack figured, also figuring that they called her 'Bit' for a similar reason she called Riddick 'big brother': because names got remembered.
'The Bit' was a delicate looking thing: pale skin, dark hair, skinny, wearing a floaty sort of dress that ended about her knees. Her brown eyes were wide and watching the shadows warily though, and Jack noticed her hands were twitching over her thighs – in a place where weapon holsters might rest.
"So who was it called Mr Universe?" Captain Reynolds asked as he stood with Jack, the two of them just staring out into the darkness as they waited for someone else to reach them. "He said something about a Richard?"
"My big brother," Jack answered with a slight smile. "If anyone can survive out there in the dark, it's my big brother," she added firmly, reminding herself of that as much as telling the captain.
"Captain! We can definitely get use or money out of this skiff," the woman Kaylee called with a grin. "It's got a working compression coil," she added happily. "Zoe, can you bring up the mule?"
Zoe smiled and brought the big yellow craft around to the skiff's rear hatch.
"She's been after you about the compression coil for how long, Mal?" asked a man with salt-and-pepper hair, and skin a few shades darker than Zoe's. He had a white collar around his neck.
"Some time, Sheppard," the captain answered shortly, though a smile was beginning to tug at the corner of his mouth. "Some time."
They'd just finished raiding the skiff – even reclaiming the book Jack had been reading before – when Riddick reached them, dragging four more cells behind him and wearing a cable with lights on his back. His goggles were down over his eyes because of all the light around the ships.
"That's damn impressive," stated a man who had a big gun in his hands – Jack had learned his name was Jayne while they'd been shifting the haul. "Those things is heavy."
Riddick smirked, but didn't answer him. "Sorry Jack," he said, dropping the rope that he'd been using to tow the cells and wrapping his arm around the girl. "Even the prospectors got eaten. Maybe if we hadn't scavenged quite so well, left the torches or the booze to be extra light, but..." he didn't finish, just silently shaking his head.
Jack nodded in understanding. "You only promised to bring yourself back," she answered, hugging him back. Just taking a moment of comfort in the powerful man's presence. "I'll be grateful for that much," she said, then pulled away enough to let him know he didn't have to keep holding her – she knew comforting twelve-year-old kids didn't do much for the bad-ass image. "Big brother, this is Captain Reynolds and his crew."
"Glad to see that 'Verse came through and got us a ride off this rock," Riddick said, sticking out his hand to shake – which the captain took and shook firmly, no squeezing or contests of strength.
"Well, welcome aboard. I think introductions can wait until we've collected the sand-cat and broken atmo," Captain Reynolds said with a slight smile and a nod at the man before he turned and ordered take-off procedures to be started up.
"Sand-cat is five miles that way," Riddick answered, pointing back the way he'd come.
"Well, we'll fly slow, low and have hull lights on, make sure we don't miss it."
They picked up the sand-cat and left atmo, then once the pilot had set their course the captain called everybody to the kitchen for introductions.
"So, were there any names you didn't get?" the captain asked as they all sat down.
"Captain Mal Reynolds," Riddick rumbled with a nod at the man. "Heard Kaylee and I'm guessing 'Wash' was someone's name."
"Kaylee's the mechanic," Jack supplied, nodding to the woman.
"Kaywinnet Lee Frye," she supplied. "Kaylee for short. I keep Serenity in the air."
"An' Zoe an' Jayne," Jack added, gesturing from the chocolate-skinned woman to the man with the gun.
"Zoe Alleyne Washburn, first mate," the chocolate-skinned woman supplied with a smile. "This here is our pilot and my man," she added, smiling at the a blonde man as she leaned a little closer to him.
"Hoban Washburne, call me Wash," the man in question supplied with a smile, reaching out to shake Riddick's hand.
Riddick obliged, smiling even. "Pleased to be able to put a face to the name. 'Verse has mentioned you to me before," he explained. "Ever need a hand in the cockpit, I'm not too shabby at flying myself," he offered sincerely.
Wash smiled, and the two men released the handshake.
Riddick tilted his head and considered the man with the gun. "Jayne?" he asked, curious.
"Jayne Cobb," the guy answered, and though his tone was neutral, the expression on his face said that he wouldn't take any flack over his name.
"Our public relations officer," the captain added with a cheeky grin. "Then there's the Doc here -"
A young man who looked entirely too Core to be on this ship nodded, but didn't offer a name.
"An' his sister beside him. We got our Ambassador -"
"Inara Serra," the woman with black curls, creamed-coffee skin and all dressed in floating silky orange said, shifting attention to herself before it could properly settle on the pale, delicate girl Jake had noted earlier as called 'the Bit' by Captain Reynolds. "Registered Companion. I rent one of the shuttles."
Riddick nodded silently, and Jack cocked her head as though trying to figure out a puzzle as she looked the woman up and down.
"How're you not cold?" Jack asked the woman at last. "All that skin open to the air like that?"
Inara – and a few others – bit down on their laughter at Jack's question. Really, only her arms were completely bare, though her dress did have a somewhat low neckline.
"I'm comfortable this way," Inara answered with a smile and a shrug.
"Whatever you say," Jack allowed, giving Inara the up-and-down again.
"An' the Sheppard Book who kinda shifts between being a passenger and being our cook," Reynolds continued, drawing attention away from Inara and onto the chocolate-skinned older man.
"Father," Riddick said, giving a polite and solemn nod to the old man.
"Pleased to meet you," Jack added, ducking her dead a little in mild deference to the holy man, just as she had done when Imam had introduced himself.
Sheppard Book seemed to perk up slightly. "You are believers?" he asked hopefully.
Jack shrugged. "Never seen any proof that there isn't a higher power, or whatever," she allowed. "I wouldn't commit myself so far as to saying I do believe though," she finished, and tilted her head to Riddick, curious to hear his answer.
"Oh, I absolutely believe in God," Riddick answered lowly. "And I absolutely hate the fucker," he added, getting confused and inquiring looks from all around him now.
"Can't spend years working in a chain gang with a horse-bit between his teeth and not believe. Can't start life in a dumpster with an umbilical chord wrapped around his neck and not believe," the Doc's sister said, her voice soft but echoing in the silence as she spoke. "Said this to another holy man who wanted to give blessings. Was killed as he went left your side to pray with the others."
"Now how could you know that?" Riddick asked cautiously.
"The girl hears everything on The River," she answered.
"Reader," Riddick noted. "That's interesting. Can you find a person's secrets if even they don't know 'em? I'd be interested to hear why I was dropped in that dumpster."
The girl tilted her head from one side to the other slowly, considering him. Softly, slowly, she spoke. "Twenty hour labour, family of four – father, uncle, grandfather, grandmother – killed four-hundred invaders, all died defending birthing mother, gave her enough time to deliver. She then rose with knife to defend you herself, and killed one hundred and ten alone and with ferocity before she was overwhelmed. Many families did the same, he was not the only one."
Silence engulfed the room as each person soaked in that information. Jack shifted herself to press up against Riddick's side.
"Thank you," Riddick said as he wrapped an arm around Jack's shoulders.
Captain Reynolds coughed, made uncomfortable by the heavy silence and wanting details. "So, Mr Universe said we'd be picking up a 'Richard' and up to eleven others. I'm not going to ask about the others, but a bit more than 'Richard', perhaps? An' since that story means the kid here ain't your Di-Di...?"
"I'm not anyone's di-di," Jack said, curling her lip as she said it, like it was a dirty word. "Whatever a 'di-di' is."
"It just means 'little brother'," Kaylee said with a giggle. "You don't speak any Mandarin? We all use bits of it."
Jack shook her head. "Just English," she answered.
"Same," Riddick rumbled when enquiring eyes turned to him. "Not much call for it," he added with an uncaring shrug, then shook his head. "Richard B. Riddick, most folks just call me Riddick, an' Jack and me agreed I'd be big brother not long after the ship we were on crashed."
Mr Universe's idea of Jack being Riddick's protégé wasn't a bad one, and it went right along with Riddick claiming the kid as family. So, Jack started to learn everything Riddick had to teach her about shivs – using them, making them, knowing a balanced weapon by the way it felt in hand, and whether a shiv was curved, straight, had one edge or two, how long or wide a shiv was... the lot. As well as shivs (and blades in general as an extension of that), Riddick decided to get Jack working out. There would eventually be some weights if Jayne didn't mind sharing his set-up, but since Jack was only twelve it was more building up endurance and wind, and making sure that the muscles Jack already had were as peak as they could be.
Therefore, they ran laps. Distance didn't matter. What mattered was that they both maintained a steady, ground-eating pace that didn't slow down at any point during the hours Riddick had them running, and they were running on their first full day aboard Serentiy. The Doc – Simon – was the first to catch them at it, and demanded to know what the 'gorram hell' they were doing.
"Cannot and do not want to leave Jack behind all the time," Riddick answered, not breaking the pace. "I'm the big brother, not the fucking baby-sitter."
"But why all the running?" Simon asked.
"Because there will be times when running will be imperative," his own sister answered as she stepped up to the railing from behind him, also watching as the two new passengers did laps of the cargo hold. "Inevitable."
"One speed," Jack managed to get out between her measured breathing.
"Mine," Riddick finished. "If you can't keep up, don't step up, you'll just die."
"The hell?!" Simon nearly screeched with indignation.
"To push beyond limits is to exhaust the body, therefore lowering chances of survival in an extreme situation or ensuing battle," River stated. "It is best to build greater endurance during times of relative peace."
"Been meanin' to ask you a couple a questions Doc," Riddick said, still running, Jack still just a few paces behind, following him. "You do surgery?"
"Trauma surgery was my speciality at MedAcad," Simon answered, clearly proud of his accomplishments there, even if he wasn't going into the full details of them right now.
"Ever heard of a process called a shine job?" Riddick pressed.
Simon frowned. "Yes," he admitted. "It's a very delicate procedure. Not something a trauma surgeon would normally do, but I have heard of it. Why?"
"Don't want to have to visit the double-max Ursa Luna prison just to get one for Jack from the doctor I got mine from," Riddick answered. "Will if I have to, but it's not my first preference."
"I'll read up," Simon promised, equally unimpressed over the idea of a twelve-year-old being taken to a prison for an optic surgery. "Though I'm fairly sure I can do the surgery you're wanting."
"We'll need to find you a pair of goggles if he can Jack," Riddick said firmly.
"I know," Jack answered, though there was a smile on her face for the rest of their run that day.
"I do have one question for the doc before he puts you on the slab though," Riddick said, calling Simon's attention back just as the doctor was turning away, headed for the medical bay and his surgical procedure books.
"Something about the surgery?" Simon asked, frowning in confusion.
"Naw," Riddick drawled. "I was wonderin' why your little sister smells like a hype."
Jack's step faltered a moment before she kept on running. Simon went stiff, tense with insult. It was River who answered though.
"Portions of her brain were removed. The elder sibling hopes to 'fix' the girl through medication. The girl cannot be fixed, but he tries all the same," River said. "Smoothers most often applied, to keep the girl from speaking words that upset the equilibrium of those around her. Sedatives also, to stop her from screaming because of the whispers she cannot help but hear."
"Whispers?" Riddick asked.
"The River carries all the whispers. They never go away. Some are louder, screaming, demanding to be heard. Some are less demanding," River explained. "Her brother believes that the whispers are a delusion. The girl cannot hear and cannot know, therefore she must be imbalanced and in need of medication."
"River," Simon said, his tone objecting and reprimanding all at once in those two firmly delivered syllables.
Riddick just laughed. His harsh, hard, barking laugh that sounded like nothing that should come from the mouth of a human. "That's just part of being a Reader though, isn't it?" he asked as he continued to run. "Hearing everything? Just need to practice at not listening to 'em. Now me, my whispers tell me to go for the sweet spot – fourth lumbar down, abdominal aorta – just slip a shiv into all a your necks and let you all bleed out from there. Abdominal aorta's a gusher, you'd all be dead in no time flat, and I'd cut your blood with peppermint snaps. It makes the copper-ish taste go away."
"That's real comforting," Simon said in a low, tense, terrified voice. He hadn't relaxed since the word 'hype' had left Riddick's mouth, but now he was tense with fear instead of insulted pride.
"Should be," Jack agreed absently as she ran, somehow less out of breath than before, though her pace hadn't changed. She was getting used to the running already. "Hasn't happened yet after all."
"To hear, acknowledge their existence, but to not listen to them. To not be controlled or overwhelmed by the dictates of the whispers, to simply let them flow on The River and not be swept up," River said, her voice soft with awe, eyes wide with epiphany. "However loud or soft, the whispers have no power to control."
"Exactly," Riddick said, an approving smile on his face. "Take her off the drugs Doc," Riddick advised. "She's too smart to have them messin' her up."
Jack was properly anaesthetised when she lay down on the doc's table in the med bay for her shine job. Riddick was glad of that. He hadn't been, and it had hurt more than any broken bone or popped joint ever had. While she was out, Riddick went in search of a female. He was looking specifically for the first mate or the registered Companion. River was strapped down in the med bay, going through de-tox and not making much sense. Kaylee... no offence to the girl but Riddick very much doubted she could be subtle – and the matter he needed to discuss with one of the women folk was in definite need of subtly.
He found the first mate before the Companion, but the first mate was engaged in the act of flirting with her husband as they headed for their bunk. He promptly turned around and headed for the part of the ship where the shuttles docked. The Companion rented and lived in one of the shuttles after all. He was most likely to find her there.
Breathing deeply at the door – and resisting the urge to sneeze from the incense or forcefully snort out the breath he'd just taken – Riddick confirmed that, yes, the Companion was renting this shuttle, not the other one, and that, yes, she was in at the moment. For the same reason that he had turned around when he'd seen the first mate about to get some from her husband, Riddick knocked rather than just barging in. He was looking for advice, and on a touchy subject, a display of at least some manners would go some way to helping him actually get the advice he was looking for.
Inara blinked in surprise when she opened the door to find him there.
"Yes, Mr Riddick?" she enquired politely, though slightly guarded at the same time.
"Is advice free?" he countered, a slight hopeful edge in his tone, but at the same time letting her know he wasn't after her services as a Companion so much as her wisdom as a member of female species.
Inara smiled and relaxed a little. She opened the door of the shuttle wider – so that Riddick could pass through – and stepped back to allow him entry. "What could a man like you possibly need advice from me about?" Inara asked, gesturing for Riddick to take a seat even as she sank down onto the cushions herself.
"A man like me?" Riddick repeated as he did, in fact, take a seat.
"My area of expertise is in feminine wiles, seduction -" Inara began, gesturing to herself and the richly decorated interior of the shuttle.
"Archery," Riddick cut in pointedly, nodding in the direction of the weapon that was hanging on her wall.
"You want to learn the bow?" Inara asked, sceptical. "This is the first time you've been inside my shuttle to see that weapon. You didn't come to me for weapons advice."
"No," Riddick agreed. "I didn't. I have a few questions I need to ask though, and it was either you or the first mate. She's a bit busy right now being Mrs Wash though, and despite what some people might say, I'm not so crude as to want to interrupt that."
Inara smiled slightly. "Alright," she allowed. "What did you need to ask a woman about?" she asked, and if her smile became ever-so-slightly teasing, Riddick didn't make comment.
"Jack," he answered simply.
"What about him?" Inara said, confused why Riddick would need to talk to a woman about his little brother. After all, what could a woman know about a boy that a man wouldn't?
"That's the thing," Riddick answered. "Jack's done a good job hiding it, and I'm not the one to want to blow a cover, but Jack isn't my little brother."
Inara blinked a couple of times as she let the words, the emphasis, the meaning sink in. Then her eyes went wide as she realised what Riddick was carefully not saying. "Oh."
Riddick nodded. "Jack's been hiding it for some time, means to go on so, but she's got her first bit of female trouble already. She's a resourceful kid, but sooner than later someone's going to notice if she doesn't know how to hide things like that better. I admit, I don't know squat about that sort of thing, and really I don't see that knowing is any of my business. Jack needs to know though, for her own sake, and I'll take whatever you can tell me to make sure I can help her out if I need to."
Inara nodded her understanding, and agreement, as she swallowed her nerves. Not one of them had realised that Jack wasn't a boy. Perhaps River had, but the Reader hadn't said anything on the subject. Hadn't even said "girl-named-Jack" like she said "man-named-Jayne" of the gun-hand.
"When would you like me to talk to... Jack?" Inara asked, hesitating and changing her mind before she said "her" and using the girl's name instead.
"I'd like it to be as soon as the Doc clears her to leave the med bay," Riddick answered. "If that's possible."
Inara nodded. "Of course," she agreed. "Though if I may ask... why not Kaylee? She'd know about this sort of thing as well..."
Riddick smiled. It was a dangerous, smirking, seductive smile. "Short answer? I make her jumpy," Riddick explained. "Fear, frustration and lust, all in one engine-greased little package. You just smell of silk, wood, lotions and incense."
Inara cocked her head, suddenly curious. "What does the rest of the crew smell like?" she asked, a child-like smile slipping onto her face.
Riddick chuckled. "Doc smells of soap mostly. Sanitiser, bandages, and worry. I could tell he's a Core-boy with my eyes shut. Now his sister, that's a different story. Smells like a hype, all the drugs the Doc's got her on. Beneath that, hard to tell. Chemical cocktail like that can cover a lot, so I'm looking forward to finding out what the girl actually smells like. Couldn't even tell she'd come from the Core, the drugs covered so much. Of course, could still smell that she's a woman," Riddick said with a smirk. "People who can't smell it would be surprised to know how much that space between our legs affects a person's scent."
Inara's eyes flashed and her jaw clenched, wondering if that was a dig at her profession. "I suppose you knew I was a Companion from my scent?" she asked tightly.
"Naw," Riddick answered, shaking his head. "Figuring out how many people a body has been with isn't something I waste my time trying to figure out by the way they smell. Take too long and would only give me a headache."
Inara relaxed, and let the tension of insult drain away.
"I'll bring Jack by when the Doc okay's her. Don't want the whole ship knowing," Riddick said, getting up from his seat.
"But you haven't told me what Mal smells like," Inara objected with a smile.
Riddick paused in the door-frame of the shuttle and looked back at her. "Like resignation, desperation, leather, steel... and pain," he said, then gave Inara one last nod before he let himself out.
Inara, for reasons she couldn't name, suddenly felt sorry she'd asked.
"Wakey-wakey," Riddick called, amusement lacing his tone.
Jack blinked her eyes open and then winced. Eyes squinted so they were almost shut and an arm raised to block out as much of the light as possible, she turned her head in the direction Riddick's voice had come from. "It worked?" she asked. "I got eyes like yours now?" she asked her big brother.
He wasn't the one who answered though.
"They're shiny!" Kaylee chirped, then blinked. "Guess that's why it's called a shine job," she added.
Laughter answered the young mechanic's observation, and Riddick stepped up, a pair of goggles in his hands which he slipped over Jack's head.
"They fit?" Riddick asked. "Dull the lights enough for you?
"Yeah," Jack answered with a grin. "Thanks Riddick," she said. "And you too Doc," she added, looking over at Simon. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Simon answered. "It makes a nice change, performing a surgery because it's wanted more than it's needed."
"Jack cleared for activity Doc?" Riddick asked. "Drugs aren't gonna mess the kid up?"
"No, he's fine," Simon dismissed with a smile.
"Good, then I'll just be taking Jack for a little talk," Riddick declared, wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulders and steering her out of the med bay. They'd just reached the door when -
"The girl wishes to attend the conversation," River announced, sitting up and suddenly awake when she'd been laid out just moments before.
"River," Simon started. "You can't just invite yourself along to a private conversation like -"
"Naw Doc," Riddick cut in. "If the Reader girl wants to know what we'll be talking about, might be for the best she joins in."
Simon relented, though clearly with reluctance, and just stood back and watched her walk out of the med bay.
"Hey, where you goin'?" Mal asked as Riddick steered the two teens through the ship towards Inara's shuttle.
"Miss Ambassador agreed to help me give Jack the 'welcome to puberty' talk," Riddick answered, "and then River here decided to get in on the lesson as well."
Mal winced, visibly. "Man am I glad that part of my life is over," he said. "Why's Inara helping?"
Riddick smirked back at Mal – the dangerous, dark, slightly seductive smirk that was the most natural way for his mouth to tilt upwards when he was amused by something. "Because I was educated in the penal system. You don't pass on the way they taught this shit Captain Reynolds."
Mal blinked a few times as he absorbed that information. "Right," he said, shaking himself back to present and out of the images his mind had conducted as to what that might mean exactly. "Well, we'll be breaking atmo on Beaumont in a couple a hours, try and sell some of the furniture to a couple associates of ours who run an operation out of an almost reputable bar. We're gonna see if we can't get some work from them anyway, so they're expectin' us. You want to meet them?"
Riddick nodded. "Meet first, then come back to the ship and figure out what cargo to offer for sale," Riddick answered. "Less you got a list of what we hauled in?"
"I think Zoe might have been that organised," Mal answered with a cocky, cheeky, slightly crooked smile of his own before he waved them off and continued on his previous direction.
Riddick led the two girls up to Inara's shuttle and knocked on the door.
Inara answered, and silently stepped back, granting them entry to her domain and making no comment on River's presence with Riddick and Jack. If the girl had decided to join them, then it was clearly because she felt that she needed to know the things they would be talking about. Inara closed the door behind them all and turned to face... her students, she supposed.
"Jack, I let the Lady Ambassador here in on your little secret," Riddick said. "She's agreed to keep it to herself, and is going to help us make sure you'll know how to be able to keep hiding for as long as you want."
Jack nodded in understanding, but looked curiously at River.
"She was in laboratories for most of her pubescent years, missed vital information," River explained. "Would also like to know how to hide as the girl-named-Jack does."
"The female body is blessed with the ability to give life," Inara started, and with occasional nervous glances over at Riddick – this was more or less secret women's business he was listening in on after all – explained about the changes the female body went through during puberty and the allowances that would need to be made for such. She then started to explain about the changes that the male body went through, with a little help from Riddick who knew first-hand.
They talked about breast-binding, crotch-stuffing, ways to hide a lack of Adam's Apple, different sorts of musculature, and finally Inara broached the subject of intimate relations.
"I am not qualified to talk about love. There is no place for romance in the life of a Companion. However, I do know about the various ways of bodily pleasure," Inara said.
"This is where I cut out," Riddick announced, getting up from where he'd made himself comfortable on Inara's cushions. He'd sat through the clinical body-changes explanations, sorted out plans for successfully hiding Jack's gender, but there was no way he was sitting through listening to women talk about how to get themselves off. That was information he just straight up did not need.
Jayne was carrying the bag of money and a few small arms, and Mal had one gun strapped to his side. For himself, Riddick secreted a few shivs about his person, tugged a loose brown robe on over his regular duds, and pulled up the hood attached to it so that it shadowed his face. Beaumont may have been Rim rather than Core, but that didn't mean he wanted to be recognised walking the streets. Mercs on the Rim were about proportional to Feds in the Core after all, and more likely to track him through three different systems or more.
Like Johns had.
Mercs were after the bounty, the pay-day, and were far from moral beacons. Feds, on the other hand, were doing their job, had a jurisdiction, and were more interested in getting their weekly/monthly pay and living with all of their limbs intact and undamaged than getting a big pay-out and a few dozen new scars or worse.
"And where are you three going?" Mal's voice called out with suspicion.
Riddick looked up, then around to follow the captain's gaze. It was Inara, River and Jack that had caught his attention.
"Shopping," Inara answered simply. "Jack only has this one set of clothes, and River has decided she wants something other than flimsy dresses," she added, giving Simon a pointed glance when she spotted him in the bay as well.
"What's wrong with the dresses?" Simon asked. "They all fit, don't they?"
"The garments chosen for the girl by Simon are impractical. The girl is also contemplating cutting her hair," River answered dismissively.
"Don't spend all in one place," Riddick cautioned. "Shopkeepers notice that sort of thing."
Jack grinned and tapped the side of her goggles. "Think these might be remembered anyway," she pointed out. "But I'll be careful, and make sure they are too," she promised, jerking her thumb at Inara and River. "I grew up on Rim, remember Big Bad?" she teased.
Riddick chuckled, a deep sound that gave the women-folk (except for the happily married Zoe, and even that was a near thing) delicious tingles all across their skin. "I think it might be big brother duty number one, to worry needlessly now and then."
"Simon does it constantly," River contributed. "Though it is sometimes justified," she added with a slight smile at her brother. After all, if he hadn't worried about her then she would still be at the Academy being experimented on.
"Alright people, let's hustle," Mal called out. "We've got money to make."
"Mal," Zoe said as they left the ship behind. "What if Fanty and Mingo won't buy?"
"Then we try Badger on Persephone," Mal answered.
"Can also drive the prices up by saying you have other buyers in mind," Riddick added. "It's quality haul. Could probably even sell to Core if you wanted to."
They managed to unload all of the cargo Riddick had brought on board, well, that they didn't want to keep for themselves anyway. Made a good sized bundle from it as well, and got a job from the twins.
When Inara returned with Jack and River though, she announced that she would be returning – on a different ship – to her House to help train future Companions. Claimed that teaching Jack and River had inspired her, she discovered she enjoyed teaching, and besides she was getting to be too old to be an active Companion any more, or nearly.
Kaylee was particularly broken up to see Inara leaving, and Mal was very shut away about it, but River, Kaylee and Jack helped Inara pack her things – with Jack helping River tuck one chest of belongings away off the shuttle as an excuse for Inara and Serenity to cross paths again, just in case they ever needed an excuse.
~Here Endeth the Tale~