Animals Like Us Belong In the Black
Author's Note: So a change or two from my usual Firefly format, I've taken everyone's advice/critiques to heart and put the translations to the Chinese at the end of each chapter. In later chapters I'll specify if the Chinese came from a script or a website. This story begins at the Academy, travels through the events of Pitch Black and will go on through the Firefly Season, possibly a comic and to the end of the BDM if not a little beyond. I probably won't be posting on a regular schedule but I do promise that I won't stop writing.
1) Everything They Whispered In Our Ear
Riddick paused in his pull-ups, the scientists hated his improvised exercise bar but so far, they hadn't figured out a way to stop him from working out without completely altering the structural integrity of his cell. The window next to the door was a source of constant irritation to him so he enjoyed returning the favor by exercising when the watchers were there. In retaliation, they'd taken the pallet and blanket that had come with the cell. They really didn't seem to understand that unless they piped in rats and roaches that this was still an improvement over his last prison. The tests were annoying and at times uncomfortable but so far they hadn't tried to 'improve' him any. Attempts like that had been made on others though; he'd seen and smelled the human wreckage of the spectacular failures.
So far, he'd seen at least three boys, all in their late teens, marched past his cell, all of them a combination of confident and fearful. Each time he'd seen a new boy he had heard screams during the next week, smelt blood, the scent of torture, and eventually death. He'd come to hate the sound of footsteps down the long hall, the echo of unfamiliar feet treading down metal stairs with anticipation and reluctance. He was so tired of deaths he hadn't caused and couldn't prevent.
Now though, there was someone else in the hallway, someone female and very afraid. Someone who was being marched down the cold white metal hall and about to pass his cell. He dropped down from his bar and positioned himself at a slightly different angle to continue his exercises. Now it looked as if he'd simply wanted to adjust his position and not as if he'd heard something past his four walls. Now he'd be able to see who else was being shoved into this hole along with him.
Definitely female, a tiny girl, another teenager from the looks of her. Slender and graceful even as she was pulled along, looking at everything. For a moment as she passed the window her eyes met his, dark eyes, black to his vision though they were probably brown to everyone else. He could smell her fear; see it on her face, even half hidden as she was behind long dark hair. Riddick kept doing pull-ups as she passed and wondered what they were doing with a little girl.
Every other subject he'd seen had been male. Some, like him, were obviously convicts taken for the same reasons he'd been. Their brains were different; more than a few were psychotic. That was something the scientists thought he had in common with the others. He knew differently even if they didn't. For a bunch of people who thought they knew everything they sure were idiots about human nature. One of them though, Mathias...he was almost as smart as he thought he was. He was one of the few who didn't mind Riddick's exercising.
Most of the other convicts were gone now; Riddick could only hear one other, a man whose appetite for blood rivaled his own. That one was someone Riddick was hoping he'd get to kill. The wǒ kào that man talked about made him sick. There weren't a lot of things Riddick wouldn't do, and killing kids or raping anybody were definitely among the 'do not' category.
In the last six months it looked like they'd finally gotten done working on convicts and they were moving along to the kids they had in the upstairs. The scientists never had figured out just how acute his senses were, the paranoia born of years on the street and foundling homes had kept him from being honest in his reactions to their stimuli. At night when it was quiet, he could hear all the way up to the ground levels, to the place where children studied and slept with hell right under their feet.
Riddick dropped down from his exercise bar and rearranged himself so he could do some hanging sit-ups. He'd been in this place for more than two years, ever since it had smelled new. The kids had always been upstairs. He hoped most of them never made it down here.
River shuddered and wrapped the blanket more tightly around her body. Elevation was not what she'd been told it would be. Higher learning was more like indoctrination, drugs and other things pumped into her body to prepare her for the programming. Training. More training. She could do things with ballet that she would never have associated with the beauty of dance. And they'd put her to sleep and when she woke up she could hear things... odd things that made no sense. Her head had ached for days afterwards.
At first, the Academy had been amazing. She could plan her own programs for study, science, higher mathematics, theoretical physics, applied astrophysics... it had been wonderful. She'd been able to constantly challenge herself. And she'd still had time to read literature and history, to dance and draw. It had been a wonderful year. And then...everything had changed.
She'd drawn attention, attention of the wrong kind. So she'd been...elevated like a few others had been. Some of the older boys, they'd gone on to advanced study. They'd never been seen again. Now she knew why.
River shivered again and fixed her mind on escape. She'd sent letters to Simon, letters that hopefully her brother wouldn't find too complex to decode. She'd sent the same letters to her parents, but she'd heard nothing. Simon was her last hope for outside help to escape. She didn't have access to a cortex or a databook even, apparently, Mathias didn't want to underestimate her intelligence and give her something she could actually use.
She'd never mentioned her interest in programming. It hadn't been something her parents wanted known and she'd agreed her youthful (relatively speaking) interest in hacking or husking as some called it might damage her chances of getting into the Academy. It wasn't even something that she'd been known for at her last school. Everything she'd learned to do with a sourcebox and a databook she'd taught herself. The courses in programming at her school had been so simplistic she'd learned everything they had to teach in less than a day. If she could get a databook she could use the port to hack her way into the cortex servers of the Academy and effect an escape. Therefore, Mathias' precautions were doubly annoying.
Her door slid open and Mathias entered along with two orderlies. If she was lucky, it was only more testing. But her luck hadn't been good lately.
Riddick rolled his head back and forth stretching a bit. They'd taken to throwing him into a bigger room where he'd have to fight whoever was thrown in with him. They must be shipping in new men for him to fight because none of them smelled familiar. The fun part was they never gave him a shiv, or any sort of weapon, it was always hand to hand combat.
This time they'd added two other doors to the room, not just one, and both opened at the same time. One had the little girl he'd seen, the other had the maniac that liked to rape and kill children. Riddick didn't even have to think it over, he charged straight at the psycho.
River blinked; her instructions had been clear, kill the more dangerous of the two men. One of them wore goggles, no shirt, and fatigues. He was the man she'd seen exercising when she'd first been 'elevated'. The other was hard to see as the first had launched himself at the second a curse about rapists on his lips. River tilted her head and stepped into the room, her choice of opponent made.
Riddick was surprised when the girl jumped into the fight, her fists and feet striking lethally helpful blows to the baby-raping killer he'd been itching to gut. She had a look of dark glee on her face as she kicked the hún dàn in the small of his back. The blow she took to her face threw her backwards a foot but only served to give momentum to her next blow, this one to the man's ribs.
Riddick cursed as the man turned his attention from him to the girl, a very disturbing gleam in the pale eyes. Soon he was the one attacking from behind as the girl took the brunt of the hún dàn's fists. "Sonovabitch!" He cursed again as she fell backwards with the maniac on top of her, "Not this time."
River was struggling for leverage and had dug her thumb into the man's throat but couldn't get enough force to truly cut off his breathing or circulation. Most disturbing wasn't the man's hand on her own throat but that his other hand was working at his trousers, trying to open them even as she struggled. Then the man's weight was jerked off her body with a roared curse.
Getting up and crouching warily was instinct as the man with goggles wrapped one arm around the other man's jaw and his other around his shoulders, jerking violently in different directions until there was a loud ugly crack. Just as abruptly, the man with goggles let the body fall to the ground. "Ain't gonna hurt you Qīng Xiāng," He stood with the man's body at his feet and waited.
River blinked and then frowned, her instructions were unclear, she was to attack the most dangerous man in the room, in her opinion that man was dead. Then the overhead com blared and she took a deep breath. "Have to fight, prove I can win," She shook her head. "Don't want to hurt you."
"Then don't," Riddick shook his head and folded his arms. "They can't make us fight."
"They'll trigger me," River shook her head, "And then..."
"Subliminals?" Riddick cursed vilely and nodded, "All right. Come at me. Do your best...or your worst little girl."
River's eyes narrowed, "Not a nī zi ." She sprang at him, a whirlwind of feet and fists, landing several solid blows before he caught her ankle and tugged.
Riddick smirked as he pulled her off balance for a moment and used the half second she need to right herself as a way to wrap his arm around her throat. "Fight little girl," He taunted her before he spun her slender body away from his. "I won't hurt you."
"Have to," River told him as she aimed what would have been a paralyzing kick at his groin if he hadn't blocked it. "You like to win. I can tell." She could feel it, hear it in his mind, the second surgery had made the voices she heard more clear, while giving her awful mood swings until she'd started meditating.
"Yeah," Riddick let his smirk widen to a grin. "And you hate to lose, can smell it on ya." He aimed a punch at her stomach and had the satisfaction of a glancing blow as she danced away. He was strong enough that even a glancing blow had an effect on her; she was much smaller than he was. He might like to win but not at the expense of beating on a girl half his size.
"No choice," River shook her head as she aimed a kick at his jaw. His head snapped back and she spun and tried to repeat the performance only to be grabbed by the ankle and yanked forward, then tackled. Her breath left her lungs in a dizzying rush as she hit the ground, her opponents much larger body pinning her.
"Why no choice?" Riddick nearly growled in her face and ignored the body beneath his. This close to her she wasn't as young as he'd first believed and even with her fear, she smelled incredible. "What's that mean?"
She shuddered under him, hearing his thoughts, feeling his desire and his unwillingness to do anything about his sudden need. "Both anecdotal and objective evidence indicates that all other students to be elevated have died. Failing to win seems a sure path towards death."
"Yeah," Riddick caught the sound of someone coming towards the room, "All right, so I'll teach you how to win against a bigger opponent." He backed off and let her up. "You need to build up some muscle, more than you got."
"No experience or knowledge of weight training," River pointed out as he pulled her to her feet.
"Regular weight resistance exercises," Riddick explained and began to show her what he meant. Looking up as the orderlies and the scientist, he knew wanted more genetic tissue came to the door he ignored them and went back to instructing the girl. "You ain't ever gonna outweigh me, but you'll have more than grace behind those kicks a yours. Iffen you'd had a bit more power, coulda knocked me out with that last kick."
She nodded seriously, "Do you think we could practice?" She wondered, "I...haven't ever really fought anyone bigger than me. Not like you."
Riddick put the girl behind him when the orderlies came closer, "Ya'll just hold yer horses." He shook his head, "Girl wants ta learn. An' everyone keeps sayin' how this's a school or somethin'."
"She'll learn from our instructors, not you Riddick," He was told in a flat voice. The scientist, Doctor Cho smirked at the man who could break him in half; smug in the knowledge that Riddick would be taken down before the convict could hurt him. "River, come here."
"Would like to stay with Riddick," River slid out from behind the big man and stood beside him. "Need to learn more than just proper forms. Need down and dirty fighting. My knowledge of martial arts is superior but he still beat me." She brushed her hand over the big man's, her knuckles touching his briefly. "Could learn from him, seems willing to teach me."
"You're a female, he's a male, fraternization isn't recommended or allowed," Doctor Cho shook his head.
"Ain't sayin' we should bunk together," Riddick shook his head. "Though I hope ya'll understand that I like women, not little girls, least by this time. Ya did enough psych profilin' on me ta figure that much out."
"A test then," Doctor Cho suggested a dark gleam in his eyes that Riddick didn't care for.
"What sorta test," Riddick narrowed his eyes behind his goggles.
"If you can spend a day in quarters together, a full twenty four hours, without killing each other or doing anything else inappropriate, then I'll consider making the arrangement permanent. You may teach the girl," Cho said with a smirk.
River looked at Riddick, "I am willing to try if you are." She tilted her head, "Will not hold it against you if you do not wish to share quarters with the girl."
"Hell, ain't like I'm a prize nī zi ," Riddick shrugged. "You sure you wanna end up roomin' with me? Ain't 'xactly mannerly."
"To keep learning? I will abide," River nodded slowly, her fear hadn't gone away but it had faded somewhat.
"All right then," Riddick nodded. "We'll give it a try." He held out his hand, "Richard B. Riddick, escaped convict; murderer."
"River Diaochan Tam," River bowed slightly. "Genius; dancer."
"Huh," Riddick tilted his head thoughtfully. He'd have to see how this went. One thing was for sure, he was in for an interesting time. He looked at Cho and smirked, "Only reason he's suggestin' this is he thinks one a us is gonna screw it up."
"Then we will prove him wrong," River's smirk was a touch wicked, and nearly identical to his.
It was later on that day, after they'd worked out a few ground rules between them for needful moments of privacy that River thought to ask him why Doctor Cho would even allow them this experiment. Riddick had smirked again, smug in his manipulation of the supposedly more intelligent male. "He hates me, hates he can't figure me," He told her quietly. "Thinks I'm an animal, which ain't untrue I guess, an' he's hopin' I lose control an' fall on ya, do somethin' that'll get me punished. He likes hurtin' folk."
"Then why agree to the experiment?" River asked softly her eyes glued to his silver orbs in the dim room. "Why take the risk?"
"First I ain't ever hurt a kid deliberate like," Riddick told her as gently as he could. "Second, I like provin' him wrong an' I know I ain't gonna hurt you." He tilted his head, "Third is you got guts, an' I like that. An' you didn't look at me like I was dirt. So I can teach you."
"But Cho said that if we made it through twenty four hours he might make this permanent," River persisted. "You realize that means you'll be stuck with me if Doctor Mathias agrees to it."
"Cho don't got the clout to make that decision," Riddick shook his head. "An' if Mathias 'grees to this it's for reasons a his own. Either way, ain't somethin' I think is all bad." He met her eyes and was intrigued to see a faint gleam of silver starting in the depths. "I guess you ain't seein' it the same way?"
"I…" River twisted her hands together and dropped her gaze for a moment remembering the things they had done to her when she failed. "I'm nervous about this; I've never lived in close quarters with anyone, let alone a large, dangerous unrelated male."
"Guess you grew up with money then," Riddick chuckled. "Way you talk, that ain't 'xactly a surprise."
"I don't imagine it is," River's expressive face twisted sardonically. "But even being nervous, I'd rather try, and try to learn from you, than fail outright again." She shook her head, "Failure isn't…isn't given positive reinforcement here."
"No, it ain't," Riddick remembered hearing her screams about a month after he'd first seen her. He'd had to exercise until he'd been drenched in his own sweat with exhaustion so he didn't beat at the walls. His agitation had been twice that of when he'd heard the boys screaming out their pain and he wasn't going to delve too deeply into the why of that.
"So I…I'd rather be a little nervous…and maybe learn to trust you at least, and learn," River told him softly. "I apologize in advance if anything I say or do is insulting…I…" She shuddered.
"Ain't gotta worry 'bout me touchin' you in a wrong fashion," Riddick tried to reassure her smelling her fear like burnt cinnamon. "I ain't a rapist. An' any urges I get I know how to control."
"I know, I could tell, when you pinned me," River blushed slightly in the dim room. "If this…experiment succeeds I'll explain that more completely. But that's why I agreed…to let you teach me, because of that control."
River was seventeen, Riddick still had a hard time believing he'd known her for more than a year and a half, longer if he counted seeing her when she was first brought down to the lower levels. He'd had a very difficult time stifling the animal since they'd begun bunking together. What made it worse was that River felt the same way. They'd done another surgery on her brain after they'd bunked together and afterwards it had been impossible for River to not know of his desire for her. At first she'd reacted to his lust, the scent of need rising off her skin like honey but it hadn't been real. He'd throttled back his need, restraining the animal until he'd felt as if he was suffocating but it had worked. She'd relaxed and breathlessly explained exactly what had been done to her.
He'd never wanted to kill someone so badly in his life as he had Mathias at that moment. He'd punched the wall he'd been so angry. River had shuddered, started to weep and he'd gotten himself under control. She was just a little girl, but she'd gasped and grabbed his hand, and pulled him down beside her. In a whisper of a voice, no one but he could ever have heard she began to tell him of what they wanted her to do, to be. They'd succeeded as far as he was concerned, they'd created a Reader. River felt so much, all his emotions, even the ones he tried to bury, the ones he'd rather she didn't see. According to her, his mind wasn't like anyone else's she'd heard, she called it elegant, layered and intricate, beautiful.
That didn't change the animal or anything else about him but River didn't seem to mind and she was the one stuck in a room with him. Then she'd really shocked him. She'd told him she believed that it was the animal in her that heard thoughts, felt the emotions of others, that was why it was so hard for her to deal with. She wasn't born like him, wasn't used to having the animal so close to her skin. She needed him to teach her how to live with it, how to embrace it because the Academy was determined to use it, to use her. If they were ever going to escape, she needed to be able to match him, to keep her sanity no matter what was done to her. He could smell truth on her, truth like blood smelling sweet to his nose. She'd smiled and leaned against him and whispered that she wished she were old enough for him.
That had been six months ago. Six months of teaching her more than fighting moves. Six months of watching her struggle to resolve the genius of her brain with the instincts of the animal the Academy had awakened. Six months of wanting her, of needing her and knowing the animal considered her his already. And then they'd taken her out of the training room for some reason. He'd had a devil of a time acting as if he wasn't worried. It was bad enough he'd wake up wrapped around the girl, hiding her from the door and window. That could be explained away by the fact that he was warm and she was always cold. But if he was worried when she was taken away for one of her tests... Cho would jump on that as a prime example of unsuitable attachment. Not that they cared what their test subjects thought one way or another.
Riddick channeled his energy into working out, trying to burn out his rage with sweat. He'd just dropped down to his feet when River stumbled in, her dark eyes wild. "Richard B. Riddick," She said his name as if she were reading it off a cortex. "Exemplary male specimen. Resistant to drugs and torture. Highly evolved instincts. Excellent night vision." She turned and looked at the window as the orderlies left her with him, the door sliding shut. "Richard does not speak of his life. But she hears."
He moved over to grab her shoulders and helped her to sit on the pallet they'd been given for good behavior. "Yeah I know alla that nī zi ." He'd maintained the fiction that he still saw her as a child for the past year, ever since she'd turned sixteen. He couldn't fool himself but he could fool their watchers. "What happened today?"
"Read the cards for visitors," River muttered, "Old men drowning in blood but it never touches them. Dress me up like a doll and ask me what I see." She looked up at him, "Don't want to see anymore."
"All right," Riddick was actually worried. "You remember what we talked about?"
"What I see isn't mine, I'm not responsible for it," River whispered. "Richard is right, but it hurts, it hurts, hurts!" She nearly shrieked the words.
Riddick nearly shuddered with the effort of holding back the animal and took a deep breath, "All right," He kept his voice low. "You don't have to talk about it or think about it tonight. We'll figure out how to keep it from hurting." He wrapped her up in his arms and pulled the blanket around her. "Get some rest."
River didn't like the chair. The metal was cold and the straps were hard and bit into her skin. Mathias always put needles where they shouldn't go and Riddick hated how she smelled after these procedures. She shuddered as the drugs began to flow into her veins and hoped she wouldn't remember what she saw when she'd read the cards.
Riddick had soothed her, thought things at her that he'd read or seen. Let her read him until she'd seeped herself in his animal and let it calm her. She'd worked hard since then to embrace her animal. Her combat skills had never been better and she read other people easier than she ever had before. But the nightmares of what she'd seen wouldn't leave her and these procedures just made her see them while she was awake. And then she wasn't awake but she was. Simon was here. But he wasn't because Simon wasn't an inspector.
But he was, because everyone was unconscious and he was talking to her and taking the needles out of her forehead and getting her out of the chair. She stumbled and he nearly went with her, and that was wrong. When she stumbled, Riddick always caught her and made sure she was all right. Simon saw one of the orderlies coming and grabbed a chart; River scrambled up the wall and braced herself between the walls and the ceiling of the hallway. Dropping down she grabbed her brother's hand and began tugging him towards Riddick.
"No, River this way," Simon shook his head and gestured in the other direction.
"No, cannot leave without him," River folded her arms and stared at her big brother.
"Without who?" Simon didn't receive an answer as River darted off down the hall. She tore the cover off the door controls and hot-wired it to open and stick.
Riddick looked up as River burst into their room and grabbed his hand. "Come, quickly," She tugged on him as if to tow him in her wake.
"Where we goin' nī zi ?" He'd found it was best to not argue when River got like this. The worst that would happen was they'd end up sparring at an unscheduled time.
"Time to go," River told him as she raced down the hall, Riddick easily keeping pace.
That sounded promising, though the new doctor in the hallway looked appalled. For a half second Riddick wondered if he'd have to break the man's neck but River shook her head. "Simon came to get her. She won't leave without you," She explained.
"Appreciate that nī zi ," Riddick nodded as they came to a halt beside the man.
"We'll talk about how unexpected this is later," Simon nodded at him. "Right now we're running behind," He pointed towards the open door at the end of the hall. "And we have company," His eyes were on something behind Riddick.
Riddick cursed and shook his head, "Run." He told Simon, "River an' me got this, just make sure that door don't close."
Simon nodded and raced for the door, holding it open as Riddick and River turned and dealt with the three guards in a manner that had his eyes widening. His sister had leapt and kicked out with her dancer's legs, striking two men simultaneously, the man she insisted on taking with them had thrown one punch at the third guard and the man had fallen to the ground unmoving. River's tiny fists struck unerringly, her aim lethal; her guard had a crushed windpipe and a ruptured spleen. Her big partner had simply grabbed the guard reeling from River's kick and expertly broken his neck. Before Simon could call for them to hurry, the two were racing towards him more guards behind them.
Riddick grabbed onto River's waist and leapt with her through the door. The lift began to move upwards as Simon slid the door closed behind them. Simon looked at his sister, crouched on the floor of the lift, her hand around a cable. The big man stood behind her, his hand on her shoulder almost protectively.
Riddick sighed as he sat down in the shuttle and looked at River. "Tell me again nī zi how old you are?"
"She's sixteen," Simon said wearily taking a seat.
"Simon is erroneous in his calculations," River slid in between the two men. "The girl was in the Academy for more than three years. She is seventeen."
"Good," Riddick wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "That's good."
"Why is that good?" Simon blinked at the bigger man, "Who are you?"
"Partner, best friend," River relaxed into Riddick's side. "Have not spoken of more than that. Unsafe."
"Because part a me weren't seein' her as a child no matter what I call her an' I weren't happy 'bout that thinkin' she's only a little girl," Riddick played up his accent with a smirk.
"Richard has skin privileges, same as Simon," River pronounced the words with an air of finality.
"Skin privileges?" Riddick glanced at her curiously, he'd never heard her use the term before.
"The right to touch and be touched," River nodded seriously looking up at him, "Your animal needs skin privileges to truly feel safe, part of a pack. Mine needs this also."
"She is a little girl," Simon argued, disregarding the skin privileges issue altogether in favor of something he considered more important.
"She is sitting right between the two of you," River said sharply. "And she is not a little girl. Seventeen year old woman who would like to know where we're going."
"Good point Qīng Xiāng ," Riddick agreed. "Where're we going?"
"The people who helped me get into the Academy also have a plan to get River and I out," Simon explained quietly. "You're...a bit of a hiccup."
"You're sayin' I weren't part a the plan," Riddick concluded. "So gettin' all three of us out is gonna be a problem."
"Yes," Simon shook his head. "Who are you again?"
"Richard B. Riddick," Riddick offered River's brother his hand.
"Doctor Simon Tam," River's brother introduced himself.
"Thanks by the way, for the rescue," Riddick tilted his head. The boy looked like his nerves were stretched thin as piano wires.
"Thank my sister," Simon half-smiled, worry pouring off of him in waves. "I wouldn't have even known about you if she hadn't insisted on it."
wǒ kào - crap
hún dàn - bastard
Qīng Xiāng - Sweet Scent
nī zi - little girl
Author's Note: So I hope you like this. If you do, I'd appreciate a review. I like to get feedback and its incredibly helpful especially as I usually write an entire story before posting it. This is going to be a long one, probably longer than my other two River/Riddick fics combined so any encouragement is appreciated.