The Chronicles of Riddick: Into Darkness (Part One)
This story continues from where “TCoR: Ghosts of Furya” leaves off. Please make sure to read that first so you don’t get lost or confused. Thank you!
Waters jolted awake, overwhelmed with nausea as her cryo capsule roused her from slumber. The glass door parted like a beast opening its jaws with a hiss. Her face mask lifted away and her vitals reader beeped in time with her racing heart. An oblong bowl swiveled before her chin but she clamped her jaw and pinched her lips as she looked at the ceiling, taking one deep, slow breath after another. She pushed the bowl aside, fighting her nausea to let up with sheer force of will.
Once her stomach was a minor discomfort, she began to relax. The capsule emitted a gentle ding, signaling for Waters to brace herself as the machine detached all the tubes and wires that’d kept her alive and healthy. The removal of so much equipment felt so relieving that she sagged against the harness holding her upright. The vitals reader shut itself off and an overhead light came to life, basking her in a dim white glow. Low as the setting was, she squinted, then rubbed the sleepiness from her eyes.
Waters hit the button by her ear, releasing herself from the harness wrapped around her legs and torso, then she stumbled all the way to the passenger chairs lining the middle of the space ship. She gave her legs a moment to get used to bearing her full weight. The cryo capsules protected her and the rest of her squad from atrophy, but the technology couldn’t substitute brain usage.
She slowly let go of the black chair, then straightened out her smock as she took in the rest of the occupied capsules. Riddick and her four squad members were sound asleep and wreathed green glows, signaling that they were all alive and well. She crossed to the control panel splayed out along the head of the ship. It lit up when she sat in the cockpit chair. She pressed a choice button and the metal shields covering the wall-sized windshield retracted with a series of thunks, revealing a view of Earth from space that took up the whole window. They would enter Earth’s atmosphere within an hour.
The sight brought relief and comfort. As thrilling as intergalactic travel was, there was no place like home.
Waters got up and headed to Riddick’s capsule. His vitals were solid, yet the respirator sounded slightly fast for someone in deep sleep. She took a step closer and scrutinized the mask covering his nose and mouth. Maybe there was a leak in it.
Riddick opened his eyes.
Waters jumped back with a scream lodged in her throat, and she placed a hand over her sternum. Riddick’s eyelids drooped, but he forced them open a few times before closing altogether. Seconds later, they popped back open and he met Waters’ gaze with his usual intense curiosity.
She double-checked his vitals, which were still in the green, then drew closer once more. “What are you doing awake, Riddick?”
Unable to talk due to the stomach tube stuck down his throat, he shrugged.
“Oh, good, you still remember some English after spending three months in cryosleep–or lack of sleep.”
“If I let you out, can I trust you not to touch anything while I shower?” She’d rather leave him in there than out and about, unsupervised, but she couldn’t just leave him in such an uncomfortable position while awake. God, how much of the last three months had he been awake?
He nodded again.
Waters reached to the side of the capsule, then paused with her palm over the release button, studying the kid. “This means just pick a spot and wait. If you’re hungry, you can eat and drink. If there’s anything else you want, you wait for me.” It would be a while before she herself felt hungry after waking from cryosleep, but Riddick? Who knew? “Got it?” He nodded a second time and Waters slapped the palm-sized button.
Vents sucked out the treated air that filled every capsule, and the straps over Riddick’s arms popped off. His throat tube pulled out, he coughed and gagged, then began tearing at the wires and tubes attached to his arms and torso.
Gasping for breath, he paused with one hand down his smock and gave Waters a confused look. He tentatively reached deeper as the needles in his arms pulled themselves out.
“Stop. The machine will remove them for you. Don’t hurt yourself or break the machine.” She was sure he understood less than half of what she said but she felt better speaking in full sentences. At least her words got the kid to stop tearing things up.
Riddick held himself stock still as the cryo capsule’s computer methodically detached the rest of its equipment, lifting away the face mask last as the capsule’s doors parted. Riddick sped through unlatching all the buckles, then fell into Waters as his legs failed to hold him up. She locked her arms around him as they both stumbled towards the chairs. He reached for a chair, pulled himself upright, and stood so the chair sat between them. Waters reached for him but he gave her a look like a wounded animal about to lash out, the whites around his dark irises far too prominent. She lowered her arms and backed up a step.
Riddick doubled over and threw up all over the floor.
Poor kid. Waters gave him a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, cryosleep is rough.”
“I don’t like cryosleep,” he said between gasps, then started dry-heaving.
“No one does. Take a seat.”
He slowly got his stomach and breathing under control, and the whites around his eyes disappeared. He slid into a chair and clenched his fists in his lap.
Using her toes, Waters lifted a floor flap and pressed a button, raising a collapsible table from under the floor. A vertical slab of stainless steel rose to eye level with her, then unfolded and snapped into place. Riddick gripped its edge and stared at it, yet his attention was on Waters.
“Are you hungry?” she said.
“Did you wake up a lot in there?” She pointed to his open capsule and she retrieved a box from a supplies cabinet next to one of the dormant cryo capsules.
“I don’t know. Ship always dark. Everyone always sleeping.”
“As you were supposed to be as well, but let’s worry about that when we all go see the doctors.” She popped open the mouth of the box and sprinkled the absorbent powder all over the beige-colored vomit. “Just stay seated and don’t touch anything until I come back. Got it?”
Waters finished cleaning up the vomit with a handheld vacuum, then check on her four squad members individually before heading for the showers. She gave Riddick, who was watching her every move, one more glance before stepping inside. Hopefully he’d obey orders and stay put. He knew the stay command. Sure, she could wake Kenner, the biggest and strongest of her squad, but she didn’t want him or any of her soldiers to see her in just a smock. She had to keep appearances at all times. She’d been the last one to enter cryosleep, and she wouldn’t wake the others until she was back in uniform and presentable. Riddick would be given the same professional front at all times once he was able to speak fluent English and comfortable in his new surroundings.
* * *
Waters was showered and back to her feminine standards in four minutes, and in another minute fully dressed with her hair tied up so it wasn’t touching her BDU collar. She would’ve liked to have camped in the shower for an hour but such luxury would have to wait another day, when she was home and off duty. Right now, she had to wake her squad and ready them for landing in Arlington, Virginia.
She opened the bathroom door and fought her combat-trained reflexes at the sight of Riddick standing in front of her, facing her. She balled her fists as he fixed her with his studious gaze. He stood uncomfortably close, giving no outward indication that he was a threat, but he was more wild than civilized.
You don’t tame a Furyan, Aquarion’s words and accompanying laughter echoed in her mind. The Elemental had sounded thoroughly convinced.
Waters clenched her jaw as she relaxed her fists and stepped out of the bathroom. Riddick moved out of her way, unperturbed. He didn’t seem in the least bit bothered that he’d disobeyed orders, but she couldn’t punish him. He probably didn’t know better yet. Still, it was so hard to gauge what he did and didn’t understand. Waters scanned the ship for signs of anything out of order. All the capsules were as she left them with their green halos, and the ship’s hum unvaried, no alarms going off. Everything was as it should be, except Riddick’s location. She forced herself to shrug her unease off as she headed to the nearest occupied capsule and began waking her squad.
They landed in HQMC in Arlington, Virginia bright and early. Waters taxied up to a choice hangar of a dozen while navigating among other traffic taking off and landing. The base was an organized zoo. The sounds of a busy airstrip sounded foreign after being gone for over half a year.
Once the final runway had been crossed, Waters noticed all the people gathered outside the open hangar awaiting her arrival: families.
Four wives, several children from baby to tween, parents, grandparents, and siblings. No husband or kids for her. The no kids part wasn’t so bad. She had nieces and nephews to fill that void. But no spouse?
She mentally shrugged the melancholy away. No point in a pity party. Wouldn’t get her dating any faster. Besides, her parents and two siblings stood among her squad’s families, every last one of them a welcome sight.
Waters guided her ship to where the Civil Air Patrol motioned her to park, paying more attention to the families than the men waving orange glowing sticks at her. She’d clocked tens of thousands of hours piloting the Bridger, a space ship that created wormholes to punch through countless lightyears of outer space. After barking a few commands to her squad, she shut the ship down and followed her men down the open hatch, Riddick by her side.
Wives and children flew into their husbands’ and fathers’ arms; many kisses, hugs, and loving words were exchanged. Waters’ family tried to greet her with equal warmth but Riddick jumped between them and bared his teeth. Her family stopped short, flowers in hand and confusion on their faces.
Waters put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Riddick. They’re family. They mean no harm.”
He looked at her with a raised brow. “Family?”
She stepped around him and held out her arms to her niece and nephew, ages five and six. Devan and Tanya finished running up to her, and she lifted them into her arms as they wrapped their little arms around her neck.
“Auntie Jade!” they both shouted.
“Waters squeezed them tight and pecked their foreheads. “Hey, you two. It’s great to see you again. I missed you.”
“We missed you, too,” Devan said.
Waters’ parents joined the group hug. “Welcome home, Jade,” Mom said. “It’s a relief to have you back in one piece. I saw Spark showing off a fang the size of an arm. What the heck did you all run into?” Her parents stepped back.
“Dunno but we called it a really big bear. Now it’s a really big dead bear, unfortunately. It left us with no choice.”
“Ah. Now who’s this young man with you? He seems rather protective of you.”
Waters grimaced. “He’s an alien, and the rest is classified for now.” Her father gave her a knowing nod. Her family was used to getting only morsels of intel over the years.
“What’s your name?” Tanya asked the Furyan.
“Riddick,” he said, stepping closer. “You’re family?”
Riddick glanced at Waters, then held his arms towards Tanya. She unwrapped her arms and reached for him.
Waters hesitated before letting her niece latch onto Riddick. “Be gentle,” she said to him.
Riddick held Tanya just like Waters had, and even kissed her forehead, then began rocking her like Waters had unconsciously started doing with Devan.
“Welcome home, Riddick,” Tanya said with childish enthusiasm.
Riddick stopped rocking. “Not home.”
Waters said, “He’s an alien, Tanya. He’s very far from home, but Earth is probably going to be his new home from now on. Now don’t try to ask him too many questions. He doesn’t know much English yet.”
Mom said. “What’re you going to do with him?”
“I have no idea.” She set Devan on the tarmac and he clung to her hand. Riddick set Tanya down and held the girl’s hand as well. Thankfully, Tanya wasn’t bothered in the least. She was a very outgoing, sociable child. “It’s up to my superiors and what they want to do. Our mission was just a scratch above a waste of time. Which reminds me.” She turned to the other groups of families. “Pond!”
Pond pulled away from his wife and her lips, and stood at attention. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow at o’six hundred for paperwork.”
“O’six hundred. Yes, ma’am.”
Pond’s shoulders drooped. Writing up the report on their latest mission was adequate punishment for the vocabulary lesson prior to Riddick’s first ever shower.
Waters stood at attention while doctors assessed Riddick in a biohazard room, pumping him full of vaccines and jotting down illegible notes. The place was overkill precaution-wise, since three months in cryosleep would kill just about every pathogen. That and the milieu of vaccines the Furyan was getting pumped full of could keep a whole army free of illness for probably a year. And while was getting an immunity boost, her squad was getting a routine physical examination, along with a fitness test to see how out of shape they’d all gotten. She would join in on the “fun” once she was done keeping Riddick calm. Waters’ superior, Brigadier General Fink, watched on from the other side of the glass, a pensive frown on his angular face.
Fink was a typical jarhead with an inflated ego that struggled to fit in any doorway. Waters could almost see the glass bending to compensate for how close he stood to it. Streaks of condensation formed on the glass from his heavy breathing.
One of the female doctors said, “Riddick here seems like a perfectly healthy teenager. I don’t see any cryo sickness or anything. Maybe aliens like him metabolize anesthesia and sedatives differently. We have to wait for the lab results before we can draw anything conclusive.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’m glad to hear he’s alright.”
“Waters,” Fink barked in his intimidating voice that never failed to get on Waters’ nerves. He always sounded like he was talking down to everyone when he spoke, even when expressing gratitude.
Waters marched up to the glass, doing her best to focus on Fink’s pale eyes, instead of the splotches of condensation. “Yes, sir?”
“What did you find?”
“A lot of corpses and very few answers.”
“What can the alien tell us?”
“Not much. Maybe more once his English is solid, but he had to have been born the year his planet got invaded.”
“Is he not fluent in any language in our databanks?”
“No. He’s more or less wild.”
“Then why did you bother bringing him back?”
Recalling her run-in with Aquarion, the Elemental from Quintessa, Waters glanced at the trio of doctors packing their equipment. The medical personnel were allowed in HQMC’s medical facilities because, after extensive screening, they’d proven themselves trustworthy and proficient at being tight-lipped. Still, she wanted to keep her scraps of intel as classified as possible.”Permission to deliver a full report during my debriefing, sir.”
“Permission granted. It better be good. I’ll see you at eleven hundred.” He marched off with his ego leading the way.
Oh, it wouldn’t be good. Fink was gonna be pissed with the lack of intel. She simply didn’t want to deal with his ego or temper at the moment.
* * *
Late the next morning, Waters stood at attention with hers and Pond’s report floating over Fink’s lavish desk, small lettering glowing away in front of his stomach. He was standing as well, big arms folded behind his back, unfolding them now and then to wave a hand at the letters, making the digital pages turn. Riddick stood at attention beside Waters. His fists were a little too far forward, and this angle of his feet too narrow, but overall he did a wonderful job of standing still. The posture must’ve seemed like a quiet game to him, an opportunity to study his new acquaintance as well, who for the most part ignore the Furyan.
Fink said, “You’re right, Waters. Your report begs more questions than it gives answers. I thank you for confirming rumors as facts, though. It’s something but it’s not enough. I’m going to have to send you and your squad back on fresh legs. We need more answers. The Necromongers are too much of an enigmatic threat. The masses have already fled to New Mecca and other worlds. People don’t know whether to stay put or search for safer grounds.”
“There may be no safer grounds.”
“I know, which is why we need to create the safest grounds, preferably here on Earth. We’ll have to send an ambassador to Quintessa as well, and get some straight answers out of these Elementals you mentioned.” He looked at Riddick. “This alien you brought back–”
“Riddick, sir.” Waters knew better than to interject but she didn’t like how Fink referred to Riddick like some beast.
“This alien isn’t quite like us humans but he doesn’t display any remarkable traits that give me pause. Why did you bring him with you?”
Her knee-jerk answer was that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to just leave the kid there. The last thing her superior cared to hear about was maternal sentiment. “I wasn’t sure about taking him until Aquarion expressed interest in him. Maybe Furyans mature slowly and he won’t display more traits until he’s an adult.”
Fink studied Riddick again and crinkled his nose. “Maybe you should’ve let the Elemental take him. They clearly know more about both Furyans and Necromongers.”
“I tried to get answers from her, sir.”
“I know. I read your report verbatim.” He pressed a holographic button on the side of the document, causing the document to wink out of existence, then he turned around and gazed out the wall-sized window. HQMC’s grandeur sprawled out under a tree line that expanded as far as the eye could see. “When you return to Furya, take the alien with you and dump him back where he belongs. That will be all, Waters.”
She wanted to scream at Fink, but she kept her voice level and controlled as her blood boiled. “With all due respect, sir, may I make a suggestion.”
He looked over a shoulder, scowling away. “Let’s hear it.”
“Enroll him in the Marines.”
He turned fully around, eyes narrowed. “What for?”
“He possesses covetous traits we’d love to see in every soldiers. He can become an asset.”
“He’s not an American citizen, much less from Earth.”
“I don’t see that as a problem, sir.”
“I don’t like or trust him.”
She took a calming breath, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes. “He doesn’t know any languages but what little English my squad and I have taught him. He’s a fresh mind waiting to be molded, and he learns quick. You couldn’t ask for better soldier material.”
You don’t tame a Furyan…
Fink gave Waters a measuring look. “It sounds like you’ve grown attached to the alien.”
Waters felt her face redden. “He’s just a kid.” Despite how Riddick put her on edge from time to time, she felt like she’d rescued some orphaned child. He was an orphan, just a kid. He was so innocent–far from helpless, yes–but so innocent and curious, and Waters felt like she owed him for having spirited him to Earth, along with made him undergo so many disconcerting experiences. The least she could do was keep him safe and give him a future.
Fink glanced at Riddick, then met Waters’ gaze, which had to be borderline pleading. “There’s something about him I don’t trust one bit. He looks like he thinks he’s in control of the situation when he couldn’t be more wrong.”
It was true Riddick looked very confident while he stood at a sloppy attention and bore into Fink with his attentive gaze.
“But I must admit I’m curious to see if you’re right about him having traits lying dormant. That Elemental wouldn’t have been so eager to take him off your hands for nothing.”
Have you never heard the stories?
Oh, what was she getting herself into? Aquarion’s words were frustratingly crytpic.
“Acquire adoption papers, a social security number, everything. Enroll him in JROTC and make a hard-core Marine out of him.”
“Yes, sir!” Her heart soared at the minor victory, but at the same time she felt a sense of foreboding. Was keeping him really the right thing to do, or should she have handed Riddick over to the Elementals? No, she was glad to have him, and she would make sure he molded into a fine soldier.
“But, if he starts causing any trouble whatsoever, he goes right back to his planet, and you’ll be taking full responsibility and liability for all his actions. I’ll be watching closely.”
* * *
Pond accompanied Waters and Riddick to the recruitment office, a vaulted building that would get any young adult pumped about joining the Marines. Large pictures and videos flashed over everyone’s heads, the images covering the entire ceiling and top half of the walls. Statues, plaques, and memorials decorated every spare square foot of the shiny floor, dozens upon dozens of prospective recruits bustled about, gawking at video footage and listening to base tour guides deliver speeches on America’s proud history.
The sights and sounds filled Waters with pride and patriotism. She was proud to be a Marine. She’d been serving her country and world since age eighteen. Hopefully the incoming generations would do just as well, and hopefully Riddick would be among them. She and Pond guided a fascinated Riddick into one of the offices and set to work on filling out his JROTC paper work, along with enrolling him in base school so he could learn English and get a basic education. Hopefully he’d be interested in it all. Chances were he would, since he enjoyed learning English and being able to communicate as needed.
Waters and Pond double-teamed the thick packets as Riddick listened to Holland, the recruiting officer, chat animated to him. He fixed her with his attentive gaze, asked questions and what certain words meant now and then, and Holland wore a big smile throughout her spiel regarding the Marines and their role in keeping Earth safe.
One wrist-straining hour later, the paperwork was almost completely filled out. Riddick would immediately begin receiving one-on-one tutoring under Waters’ constant supervision. Pond offered to help now and then, which made her raise an eyebrow. “What, and let you corrupt him even faster? I don’t think so.”
Holland said, “The girls will corrupt him fast enough. He’s one handsome boy. Girls are gonna melt under that attentive gaze he’s always wearing.”
“I know what you mean.” Riddick carried himself with an alluring quiet confidence, and the person talking to him knew they had his undivided attention. On top of that, his lean build and olive complexion would turn heads, and even more so after completing boot camp. He was going to be a stereotypical chick magnet.
Waters flipped back to the beginning of the application packet. “Pond, what have you been putting in the first name and middle initial boxes?”
Holland’s smile waned. “He doesn’t have a full name?”
“Wanna help us with it?” Waters said.
“Sure!” The recruiter adjusted herself in her swivel chair and studied Riddick. “He needs a strong name, one that fits his personality.”
“Tarzan,” Pond said with a grin.
Waters gave him a flat look.
Holland laughed. “Why do you say that?”
Neither of them had said much to Holland about Riddick’s origins, other than that he was an orphaned alien, and that’s why he didn’t know much English. Pond said, “He was king of the jungle we found him in.”
“How ‘bout ‘Henry’, one of the kings of England?”
“Ugh, no,” Waters said, making a sour face.
“He’s not an Edward.”
“Better, but no.”
“John?” Pond offered.
“Too generic,” Waters said with a shake of her head.
“‘Richard’ is the last English king I can remember off the top of my head,” Holland said, staring at the ceiling and tapping her chin with a finger. She looked at Waters. “The name carries weight.”
“It does,” she said, “but I feel like he needs a more exotic name or something.”
“I think we should go with ‘Richard’,” Pond said.
“We? I’m the one adopting him.”
He held up his hands. “Fine, fine.”
“I really like the sound of ‘Richard’,” Holland said.
Waters turned to the Furyan, who was watching all of them. “Riddick, what do you want your name to be?”
He shrugged. “Riddick.”
“That’s still your name, but just part of it.” She put a hand on her sternum. “Everyone calls me Waters, but my full name is Jade Waters.”
“I’m Steven Pond.”
“And I’m Julie Holland,” the recruiter said with a big smile.
Riddick looked at all of them in turn. “I’m Richard Riddick?”
Waters said, “Oh, you like the name ‘Richard’?”
He gave her a blank look, then shrugged again. “I like Riddick.”
Holland said, “I say stick with ‘Richard’ for now and give him time to grow into it. I bet you it’ll suit him well in the long run.”
“Works for me,” Waters said, not seeing any point in spending more time on naming the kid, since he didn’t care so long as he was still called ‘Riddick’. “That leaves us with just a middle initial.” She rubbed her sore eyes in an attempt to stop making the page blur.
“Make it ‘B’,” Pond said. “As in be, b-e. Richard be Riddick. Let him change it when he gets older and fully understands naming.”
Waters started penning in the complete name. “Could also stand for ‘beast’, a tribute to his animal side.”
“That too. So Richard B. Riddick it is?”
She nodded. “For now at the very least.” Pond joined her in scribbling Riddick’s full name on the top of every page.
Three years later…
Riddick waited for his grappling opponent to throw a particular feint so he could dart in and execute a takedown. Russel favored leading with a left hook feint, followed by a jab, whenever he couldn’t get the upper hand. All Riddick’s flight members had blatant tells, yet none of them seemed to be aware of this. Once he had started picking up on the tells, he started learning how to subtly trick people into doing exactly what he wanted in a fight. He stopped losing fair fights a long time ago.
Russel circled him but Riddick kept them face-to-face, then swiped at his leading fist. Russel dodged, then executed the feint combo Riddick was waiting for. He dodged under the swings with speed no one could match, grabbed Russel’s thighs, and slammed him onto his back, then began punching Russel in the face with gloved fists, until a whistle blew. He threw one last punch, just to get even with all the cheap shots thrown his way recently, then pushed to his feet.
“Stand down, Riddick!” Sergeant Tori, their TI, said loud enough for the whole base to hear.
Fists still raised, Riddick stood over Russel who was bleeding from a brow and lip. A fist grabbed Riddick’s shirt just under the chin. He reflexively seized the wrist and twisted it, heard a cry of pain, then let go and backed away when he realized it was Tori. A wave of guilt passed over him.
“That’s right. You bette feel guilty.” Tori flexed his wrist as he stepped between the boys.
Russel slowly pushed to his feet as the rest of the flight gathered around their injured comrade. All of them wore glares aimed towards Riddick. Of course they glared. They’d all developed a severe dislike for him after boot camp, when they learned he wasn’t like them, that he was an alien. No matter how hard Riddick tried, he couldn’t fit in with his peers.
“I could have you court marshaled but I don’t think that’ll teach your pompous ass anything.”
Tori gave away his intentions when his gaze darted to Riddick’s stomach for a fraction of a second. Riddick dodged the sucker punch and put more space between him and the rest of the squad, the sun bearing down his back.
Tori narrowed his eyes. “That ego of yours needs reducing.”
“Not my fault you all move so slow.” He held up his fists, even though they ached for the knife he always kept concealed on his person. Not only would it reveal a trump card, it’d get him into more trouble.
“Oh, you’ll face someone faster than you one day. There’s always someone out there who’s better than you. Just you wait.” He glanced at Russel. “In the meantime, I hope you’re in the habit of sleeping with one eye open.”
“That’s enough, Sergeant Tori,” said a familiar deep voice.
Everyone turned and Tori stiffened. “Officer on deck!” Everyone, including Riddick, stood at attention and saluted Kenner, the biggest and coolest African American Marine Riddick had ever met.
“At ease.” Kenner marched onto the grass and Riddick perked at the sight of him wearing his fighter pilot jump suit. “I’ll take Riddick from here.”
“Yes, sir,” Tori said. “You heard him, Riddick. Go.”
Riddick grabbed his gear bag lined up with all the others next to the sidewalk, gave his flight a cursory glance, then fell in step beside Kenner, one of the Marines who’d found him on Furya three years ago. The two began marching towards the hangars. He removed his sparring gear and stuffed it in his bag.
Once they were out of earshot, Kenner said, “Getting in trouble again?”
“They’re just butt-hurt they can’t beat me in a fair fight.”
“I saw you from the other end of the quad. Why did Tori try to sucker punch you?” He sounded annoyed.
“I took a cheap shot at Russel after Sarge blew the whistle.”
Kenner let out a frustrated sigh. “You know better than that.”
“He deserves worse.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s not your place. This is why you keep getting into trouble.”
“I don’t regret punching him.”
They turned down a diagonal sidewalk as two jets took off over the distant tree line. “You gotta pick and choose your fights, and wisely.”
“But I can win.”
“That’s not what I mean. I’m talking rhetorically.”
“I know but–”
Kenner held up a hand. “They’re not worth getting in trouble over. You’ve been balancing on the edge of getting court marshaled every since you graduated from boot camp. Do you really want to go to jail because of pathetic people like Russel and Tori?”
“I didn’t mean to grab his wrist like that. I just reacted.”
“I know. I saw. But you’ve got to get that under control. You act on a fighter’s instinct too much.”
“I try. I can’t help it. It’s how I survived all those years alone.”
“I understand. You’ve gotten better over the past three years. Putting that up against a good fifteen years living like a predatory animal, I’d say you’re doing very well. People just forget where you’ve come from.”
“No they don’t,” Riddick said darkly. “That’s why they bully me. They don’t think I deserve to be a Marine.”
“You’ve been one for two years. That’s just too bad for them. And you’re a damn good one.”
“Thank you, sir.” They showed their IDs at the gate leading into the air strip and walked in among hovercraft vehicles coming and going. “Those years in the jungle are all a blur now.”
“Welcome to getting older,” Kenner said with a grin. “Now let’s go blow off some steam.”
Riddick took a quick shower before donning his own jump suit and following Kenner to two XGV-47s, agile two-seater craft suited for dog fights and had decent legs for intergalactic travel. Riddick had taken to flying right out of boot camp. Air crafts fascinated him. He felt safest when in the air, where no one could touch him. He had a feeling this comfort stemmed from all the times he’d spent in trees, away from the bulk of predators.
He was on track to do space scouting, just like Waters, Kenner, and the others.
They clocked in an hour of practice maneuvers and mock dog fights with harmless laser lights hooked up to a scoring system. Riddick smiled through it all, even when Kenner gave him tips and corrections over the radio. Towards the end, they competed with each other, racing through a practiced routine of maneuvers and stunts. Kenner always won, but Riddick didn’t care. He was catching up to his mentor’s decades of experience.
Riddick normally ate all his meals in the cafeteria, regardless of how much anyone picked on him, but tonight Waters invited him to dinner and gave him a heads up that her family and squad would be there. Such gatherings never took place unless it was someone’s birthday. Riddick was almost certain tonight wasn’t a birthday, since she hadn’t told him to go buy a card.
He wore his BDU pants, combat boots, and a white t-shirt to dinner, his version of casual attire. He hated dressing up, even though Waters always fussed over how handsome he looked in a suit and tie. At least her attention and approving smile made the cramped clothes worth the discomfort.
“Riddick! Hi!” Waters swung her door wide and pulled him into a tight hug, which he returned as he breathed in the scent of her hair. Sensepert’s Sweetpea, her favorite shampoo. She also smelled lightly of a flowery perfume.
“Good evening, Waters.” They let go and Riddick presented her with a yellow rose. “Pond taught me to always bring a gift whenever I don’t know the occasion.”
Beaming, Waters took the rose and inhaled its aroma. “You certainly didn’t have to but I’m glad you did. Thank you. Come on in. Dinner’s almost ready.” She threaded an arm in his, guiding him down the short hall and into the kitchen of her base ranch house. “The guest of the evening has arrived!” Waters positioned Riddick so he stood in front of her.
Riddick took in Waters’ family and squad with some trepidation. Not only did he not like being the center of attention, he didn’t like large groups of people. He wasn’t agoraphobic; just had a particular comfort zone. His present company wasn’t so bad, since he knew everyone, but one or two people at a time worked best for him. In groups like this, he didn’t know how to act, so he often quietly sat back and observed everyone. If people spoke with him, he conversed. Other than that, he just listened to and watched everything he could.
Waters and the others clapped and cheered, then beckoned him to a long, cloth-covered table laden with plates, silverware, and snack foods. Devan and Tanya, the niece and nephew ran over and crushed his waist in hugs. “Congratulations!” they both said.
Hugging the kids back, Riddick gave Waters a raised eyebrow. Everyone except her was dressed casually for comfort. She wore a blouse and dress pants, ever the figure of professionalism. But he knew it was just a mask, just one side of her. He’d seen the loving one at the door, when they’d hugged. He’d seen a lot of it, until he’d become a Marine. After that, she’d treated him more like one of her soldier and an adult. He respected and cared about her more than anyone, but he was never sure how to show it.
She retrieved a vase from under the kitchen sink and began filling it with water. “You’re accompanying my squad and I on our next deep-space mission. It should almost guarantee your promotion to E-4.”
“Provided that you behave in the meantime,” Kenner said lightly. “Think you can handle one more month of good behavior?”
Waters clipped the rose’s stem, then set the flower and vase on the island counter. “Something happen recently?”
“Just Tori being a bully,” Kenner said. “I handled it.”
Waters let out a defeated sigh, then adjusted how the rose sat in the vase. “Him and Fink both, but Fink thinks I’m playing favorites.”
“He hasn’t see Riddick fly, has he?”
“Nor does he care about his scores at the rifle range and such.”
“So he’s playing un-favorites,” Pond said. “Oh, well. At least Riddick gets to come with us.”
“That he does. And we’ve got grilled ribs, macaroni and cheese, and grill-roasted veggies to celebrate. Who’s hungry?”
* * *
Dinner was great. The company was great. Conversation was great. They even let him have one beer. Riddick didn’t like the taste but he sipped at it until the bottle was empty so he’d feel more like he fit in. It seemed to work. It was the most he’d talked with that many people in one gathering before.
Hours later, Riddick and Waters stood side by side, finishing up washing and drying the last of the dishes. After everyone else had gone home or back to their barracks, she’d finally loosened up a little and taken off her blouse, sporting the tank top underneath, yet apologized for her casual getup. Riddick didn’t mind. It gave him an excellent view of all her curves. He found her beautiful; so were countless other women, but there was something about Waters that was far more alluring.
Waters deposited a handful of silverware in the drying rack. “I have a little present for you, Riddick. I’ll be right back.” She snatched a corner of Riddick’s drying towel as he wiped a plate, then she left the kitchen.
He wordlessly dried off the silverware and stowed them in a drawer as he tried to guess what the surprise was. His imagination went all over the place. When Waters returned, she held a necklace in one hand. Silver, medium-sized chain, and a carved metal object on the end. He caught sight of two sets of elongated claws. Could it be…? He discarded the towel and snatched up the necklace when she presented it to him. He dangled it in front of his face. It was a figure of his favorite X-Men character, Wolverine, who posed with his arms crossed, metal claws out, a glare on his face crowned by his trademark wild hair.
“I thought you might like that, seeing as how you two are a bit alike.”
“Thank you, ma’am!” He looped the chain over his head and tucked the figure under his shirt.
“I was going to give it to you before dinner but I forgot after you gave me my rose.” She turned around and faced the rose, caressing its curved petals. “Such a nice rose. I’m glad Pond did more than try to corrupt you.” She yawned into a fist.
Riddick tentatively placed his hands on Waters’ bare shoulders. “May I?”
“I think a shoulder massage is exactly what I need right now. I’m so tense after bickering almost nonstop with Fink all week.”
He began kneading the meat of her shoulders, paying attention to where he felt stiffness and knots, and methodically eased them all out. His heart raced with the thrill touching her like this. Even though Waters was his guardian, they rarely touched or interacted like a mother and son. He couldn’t deny that every child needed parental figures in their lives but he was thankful that wasn’t how their relationship had grown. They were more mentor-student, but he wasn’t a child anymore.
He shuffled so his toes were on either side of her feet, their bodies as close as possible without touching. He leaned in and breathed in the scent of her shoulder-length hair. This was the smell of beautiful. He pulled some hair aside, exposing her neck. He inhaled again and planted a kiss just below her ear.
Gasping, Waters spun around and seized his wrists. “Riddick, what are you doing? Don’t do that.” She stared at him, eyes wide.
“But you want it.” Regardless of her grip, he caressed her jawline, admiring the smoothness of her skin and the shape of her face.
“Not from you.” She gently pushed his hand away. “You’ve seen me date a couple men in the last few years. It’s inappropriate for such things between you and me. I’m your guardian. You should be chasing girls your age.”
“I don’t want them. They’re not like you.”
“Oh, Riddick.” She pulled him into a hug and lay her cheek on his shoulder. “You’re very young and both very handsome and intelligent. You have such a bright future ahead of–”
“We’re not related. You’re beautiful and intelligent. I can protect you.” He could tell she was trying hard to be gentle with her words but he couldn’t bring himself to believe she’d reject him so fast. Her body was saying one thing but her words another. Maybe he’d tried too soon, rushed into making an advance too fast.
Waters pulled away and gave him a hard look. “Riddick, stop. I am your mother and guardian. We are family. Do you understand?”
Bowing his head, he lowered his hands to his sides. “I’m sorry.”
She let out a weary sigh, then put her hands on his shoulders. “I’ve watched you grow up a lot–a lot–these past three years. Just wait a few more and you’ll start seeing in other women what you see in me. I promise. I love you. I always will, and as my son.”
Waters didn’t drop the “I love you” line lightly. This was maybe the third time Riddick remembered her saying those words, and he knew she meant it every time. While he still felt heartbroken, the words balmed the flat out rejection. He pulled her into a possessive hug. This night wouldn’t affect his need to protect her and keep her safe. She would always be his.
“And never hesitate to keep bringing me flowers. I always like them too.”
“I will.” He’d bring a hundred flowers a day if that’s what it took to woo her. It didn’t matter for how long. He could be patient and wait a few years. They mutually let go.
“Now go get some sleep. You’ll be doing a lot of training with Kenner and Spark for the next month. We’ve gotta impress the higher-ups so Fink’s grumbling won’t have any bearing on your next promotion.” She kissed his cheek, then saw him off.
Riddick took a roundabout route to his dorm, taking out his Wolverine necklace now and then to admire it. They definitely shared strong animal sides, fierce tempers, and ruthless fighting ability, but every time Riddick fought, he tended to get into trouble, even though he wasn’t the one starting fights. He knew better than that. It was better to let others start it so he could finish it.
The only problem was, it was never a fair fight when the authorities weren’t looking. Lucky for him, he we able to heal unusually fast–not quite like Wolverine, but something similar. That and he had a knack for escaping situations unfavorable to him. His unique physical traits were a blessing and curse. They were both why he got picked on and bullied, yet why he’d gotten where he was today. If he could perform well on Waters’ mission and get promoted, then he’d be dealing with a few less idiots.
Something about the barracks’ atmosphere felt off, like he was walking into danger. The lighting was normal, the tiled floors spotless and shiny, and the security guards had even let him in with no subliminal indication that anything was off-kilter, but something was.
He headed down the hall along the right side, his fingers itching for his knife. When he reached his door, he noticed that the coding shined green from being unlocked, which it shouldn’t have been, and he heard the rhythmic slap of flesh on flesh of two people having sex. What the hell?
Riddick drew his knife, adrenaline coursing through his system. He heaved the door open and lunged inside, then froze at the sight of Russel humping some girl tied to his bed, his BDU pants around his boots. He was taking her from behind while Thompson, their fellow flight member watched on. His hulking frame was seated at Riddick’s desk with his combat boots propped up on his pillows. Bastards!
His peers paused at the sight of him, giving Riddick a second to notice that the girl’s face was red, eyes watery and a gag in her mouth. She looked twelve, thirteen. His blood boiled hotter.
“Well lookie here,” Russel said nonchalantly. “The criminal has finally made it to the crime scene.” He pulled out and the girl whimpered, then he pulled up his pants.
Thompson got to his feet and cracked his knuckles. “Want me to hold him down for you, Russel?” he said in his nasally voice.
“Be my guest.” Russel bent over the girl. “The one who raped you is Riddick. Look at him real good right now. You tell anyone it was me and I’ll kill you. Got it?” Fresh tears rolled down her puffy cheeks and she nodded. Russel faced Riddick and thumbed his stitched brow. “You haven’t learned from all the towel parties, freak. Never undermine your flight leader.” He took out a cell phone, then nodded to Thompson. He dialed three numbers.
Thompson came at Riddick fast but his eyes gave away that he was going for the head. Riddick used Thompson’s momentum to skirt around and wrap his neck in one arm as he pressed his knife to his attacker’s spine. Thompson went stock still.
A female voice sounded from Russel’s cellphone as he kept his eyes locked on Riddick’s. “Hello, ma’am, I need an ambulance to HQMC’s barracks, building seven-two-two, room one-three-zero.”
“Don’t you dare!” Riddick snarled, crushing his knife in his grip.
Russel smiled, baring his teeth. “Yes, ma’am. My friend and I walked in on someone raping a minor. We’ve got him in custody.”
Thompson elbowed Riddick in the stomach, then bashed him in the face with the back of his skull. Stars erupted all over his vision. He slashed at the spine in front of him, then clutched the bridge of his nose.
Thompson went down, cursing.
“Shit, he just stabbed my friend. Hurry with the ambulance!” Russel’s phone beeped once. A moment later, his voice sounded from close to the floor. “Sergeant Tori, hurry over to Riddick’s room. He just stabbed Thompson!”
Riddick shook his head out and the stars began to disperse. He felt dizzy and disoriented but the rage coursing through him kept him conscious.
The girl lay dead still in his bed and Russel was kneeling over Thompson, who was clutching his lower back.
“Shit, Russel, I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel them!” He continued cursing and writhing, but he moved only his torso.
The sight ate at Riddick’s rage but now wasn’t the time for empathy. He lowered into a fighting stance, knife ready.
Russel said, “You think I’m that stupid, freak?” He drew a firearm from his hip and took aim. “You’re not weaseling out of this.”
Staring down the darkened barrel, Riddick’s brain flew through a series of scenarios, weighing several decisions and their outcomes. Out of all of them, one jumped at him.
Russel switched off the safety.
With his great-than-human speed, Riddick flipped the knife in his grip, then chucked it as he dodged. The knife buried itself to the hilt in Russel’s neck as he fired a round. The bullet sent concrete raining all over the room and the report made his ears hurt. That’d wake everyone in the barracks. Russel’s body slumped to the floor, his shocked expression seared into Riddick’s memory.
“Russel?” Thompson called. “Russel? Oh, god. Somebody hel–!”
Riddick kicked him in the head, hard enough to knock him out but hopefully not hard enough to kill him. There was no advantage to killing him as well. In fact, it’d make his horrible predicament worse. He threw together clothes, his firearm, and wallet, discarded his cellphone on his desk so no one could track him, then stood over Russel, who was lying in a pool of blood of both his and Thompson’s. Riddick looked away as he pulled his knife free with a squelch, then covered his mouth, vomit rising in his throat. He swallowed as the sensation of a serrated blade scraping along bone replayed in his head over and over, until he heard a girl whimper.
Riddick went over and slashed the torn sheets binding her to his bead, then paused with the bloody knife poised between them. She’d be scarred for life after all this. It would be a mercy to kill her. She looked to be only twelve or thirteen. Her ravaged, half-naked body was caught in the middle of the transformation from girl to woman, her hands and feet disproportionately large, hips narrow, and legs beginning to grow long. She bunched the sheets around her like a cocoon. Riddick almost asked if she needed him to kill her. Instead, he wiped his knife on the bed, then tucked it back into hiding. “Will you tell them the truth?”
She hesitated, her wild, fearful gaze bouncing between her and the two men on the floor. “What if he tries to kill me too?”
“Do you want me to kill him for you?”
Her eyes widened even more and her face paled as she sank deeper into the sheets.
“Never mind. Just tell the cops Russel threatened to kill you if you told the truth, okay?” The girl swallowed and said nothing. He glanced out the window and hesitated. If he fled the scene, it’d look bad for him. If he took the girl home before the authorities could intercept him, it’d help his case. Hopefully. “I’ll take you home. Where do you live?”
“On b-base. Chickadee Street.”
Riddick wasn’t sure where that was but that didn’t matter. He found her skirt and flip flops on the floor and tossed them to her. “Are you feeling well enough to guide us there?” She just stared at him like a catatonic rodent. Heaving a sigh, he snatched her clothing and slipped everything on her, shouldered his duffle bag, then opened the window and scooped her into his arms. She wasn’t heavy now but after five minutes she would be.
She started whimpering and crying as he slung her over his shoulder and he crawled out the window. Once he hit the ground, he swung her back into his arms. “Which way?” She looked around, then pointed east. He took off, keeping to the shadows.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Riddick set the girl on her front doorstep and took a moment to catch his breath before ringing the doorbell. Sirens wailed in the distance as two sets of feet scrambled for the front door from within. The door flew open. Parents. The mother burst into tears and dropped to her knees, arms wide.
“Colleen! You’re alive! We were worried sick!”
The father’s surprise and relief got smothered by a red-faced glare when he lay eyes on Riddick. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing with my daughter?”
Colleen fell into her mother’s arms. The father looked down and, at the same time as Riddick, noticed the blood trail running down Colleen’s legs. The father made fists but Riddick ran off before the man finished crossing the threshold.
How could he be so stupid? Of course the daughter had to have been missing a while. A strange man showing up on their doorstep with a ravaged daughter they’d been worried sick about… Riddick would’ve reacted the same in the father’s place if Colleen had been Waters. Damn it, he should’ve left her for the cops.
Still sticking to the shadows, Riddick snuck his way to Waters’ house, even though cops would more than likely be there. Sure enough, three cruisers were parked in front. He took mental note of the crescent moon’s position, then climbed an oak tree and started playing the waiting game. Chances were they wouldn’t leave until the next shift arrived, not while he was a wanted murderer. But he had to see Waters. She had to know how to salvage his situation.
* * *
An estimated four hours later, the cruisers finally departed without waiting for relief. His gut told him it still wasn’t safe but he had maybe an hour left before the sun started coming up. The cruisers paused at the intersection before driving out of sight.
Duffle bag still over his shoulders, he left the tree and crossed the street via a spot where two lights barely overlapped, heart pounding away until reached the safety of darkness on the other side. He’d half expected German shepherds to start barking and flood lights to bear down on him.
The kitchen light poured onto a rectangular patch of grass. Deciding against using even the back door, he set his duffle bag under a line of trees separating two houses and snuck up to the side of the house.
Waters stood before the island counter, staring at the flower he’d given her, face red from crying. His heart sank. Before one night could pass, he’d thrown away his entire career, just like that. All that hard work over the last three years for nothing, just because of one fellow soldier’s pride. Riddick stepped into the light and rapped on the window pane with a knuckle.
Waters jumped and clutched her chest, and then their eyes met. Hers went wide with shock and fresh tears welled in her eyes.
Riddick gestured to himself, pointed to her, then held up a hand questioningly. She swallowed and gave him the slightest of head shakes. A man’s voice yelled to her.
She turned in the direction of the voice. “I’m fine! Just a little jumpy.”
Riddick’s heart sank even lower. No wonder the cruisers hadn’t waited for replacements…
Waters snuck up to the sink, turned on the faucet and took out a glass from the drying rack, then reached over and cracked the window open. “Oh, Riddick, what happened?” she whispered in a thick voice.
The hurt in her voice made Riddick’s throat tighten. “I’ve been framed for rape.”
“Russel shot at me. I reacted.”
“Oh, god. Are you hurt?” Her face screwed up and fresh tears rolled down her face.
She filled the glass and set it aside, then turned off the faucet. “I’m so sorry all this happened. You need to turn yourself in and tell them the truth.”
“To what point and purpose? They won’t believe me.” Saying that made him picture flying with Kenner. Those days were officially a thing of the past. His career was ruined.
“We’ll find a way to salvage this. Don’t jump to conclusions.”
“Can we meet somewhere safer to talk?” He shifted out of the light and pressed his back to the house. He suddenly felt like he was being watched. “Where’s the officer in your house?”
She took a few seconds to answer, hopefully because she was checking to make sure. “Sitting on the couch reading a book.”
“How many more are there? I saw three cruisers drive off.”
“Just him. The others left on another call.”
Her tone was sincere. He believed her. However, there had to be someone in the darkness watching him, but all he could see were trees, houses, and his bag. “Can we meet tomorrow night?”
“Riddick, just turn yourself in. Please. You won’t even make it off base. They’ll do thermal sweeps and everything.”
The odds of him escaping the base were almost nonexistent, but not impossible, not if he played the waiting game smartly. If he stayed away from the walls and in semi-plain sight long enough, the authorities would have to assume he’d found a way to sneak off base. Once they did, he could steal an XGT-47 and take to the sky. He’d get chased, but they’d have a hell of a time pursuing him across galaxies. “Say you’ll meet me.”
“I’d love to but they’ll follow me everywhere. You’re asking to get caught.”
“Then…” He swallowed. “Then this is goodbye, Jade Waters. Thank you for everything. I’ll try to return one day.” He brushed his fingers over the Wolverine necklace.
“Goodbye.” The farewell was so faint and choked up that he barely heard it over the swish of the window closing. The kitchen light shut off, throwing him in darkness, minus the moonlight. Riddick swallowed again and took a moment to absorb the scope of the situation.
He was making huge sacrifices for the sake of his freedom. No more friends. No more family. No more rising through the military ranks. At least there’d be no more dealing with the people who went out of their way to make his life miserable, but that didn’t matter compared to all that he’d lost.
Heaving a sigh, he snuck over to his duffle bag. Two men tackled him as he bent for it. Next thing he knew, his face was in the grass and his wrists in cuffs.