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Eleventh Hour Reprieve

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Vaako was drifting on the edge of life and death. He knew this, the motion of the ship was taking him closer and closer to death. To transcendence. But something felt off; like he was missing half of himself. There could be no transcendence if you weren't whole to begin with. He looked down and noticed blood, a wound in his side that he didn't remember having. He pressed at the wound and felt pain. It had been a while since he felt physical pain, and then he remembered. He thought he had screamed but he heard nothing but silence.

Krone. Faithless. Betrayal. Lies. Death.

He looked up from the wound to the beautiful exotic swirling mass of the Threshold. The ship rocked as the gravitational pull from the dwarf planet that circled the outer reaches of the Threshold took hold of his shuttle. He looked out at the colors that seemed to pulse and wither. He wanted to feel whole. He'd never wanted transcendence. The threshold spun beautifully in front of him and with that thought It came at him in a rush.

Beauty. Peace. Adventure. Risk. Chance.

Love. Destruction. Passion. Journey. Stillness.

Darkness. Touch. Survivor. Silence. Light.

Hope. Rage. Attraction. Strength. Change.

Blackness.

Vaako's mind opened. His body seemed to spread and ripple and touch the universe. He was laid bare and his earlier thought that he was missing something was there for him to see again; but in that moment he also discovered what he truly wanted. The Threshold seemed to undulate, come alive, and at its touch images flashed in his mind. His life as a child, a young adult, a student, a warrior, an officer, a convert, a commander. The choices he made all laid out. One by one he touched them, changed them, returned them to what they had been.

He went back in time and touched the choices made by one Lord Marshal, and then another and another. Covu, Naphemil, Kryll, and even Zhylaw. He turned them all back to how he found them, none of the resets gave him what he sought.

Vaako went back to the moment the Air Elemental delivered her prophecy to Zhylaw. Months before his own birth. Watched the landing on Furya, watched as the planet was ravaged. Watched as a mother gave birth and then hid her son amongst the rubble and trash before stumbling away to slice her own belly open to conceal the fact she had given birth. To give her son a fighting chance at life.

When he returned to the child he knew who the boy was, eyes glowing a silver light that faded as his mother's life faded away. Riddick.

He touched Riddick's life. Changing events and changing them back. Looking, searching. Parts of Riddick's life almost paralleled his own. He saw the moment where Riddick's life went from mostly normal as a Ranger to that of a convicted criminal on false charges, and then to killer --one right decision tumbled the Furyan onto a much darker path. Oddly enough, every time Vaako tried to change that decision or one similar in Riddick's path, the outcome was the same and resulted in Riddick becoming, well, Riddick. Labeled a sociopath and killer with a bounty on his head. He wasn't an immoral man, but fate's path seemed to be set in one direction not allowing for much give.

He saw the moment in one slam where Riddick hid away to rest and woke with the glowing eyes he'd had as an infant. Vaako continued to twist and pull and revert the threads of Riddick's life because he knew that whatever he was searching for was there, somewhere. The right moment had to be here, and Riddick was his last chance, he just had to keep looking. Changing threads and changing them back.

And then...

~~~***~~~

Riddick hated the cold. He hated the ice and the snow. The wind wouldn't bother him so much if it wasn't for the freezing temperatures. He was hiding and he hated hiding, but he had hated what he saw Jack becoming even more. She couldn't become like him, she was his do over to the universe. His one good deed to wash away a few sins from his soul. His chance to thumb his nose at fate and say that someone no one cared about could do great and honorable things. She was almost his redemption if he was one to seek redemption.

He still cared for Jack, whose name he knew was Kyra Jackson, because sometimes orphans and runaways were in the system even when they were not wanted; but until she was ready to tell him that herself she was just going to be Jack to him. She became his family when he wasn't looking and family could be a weakness to someone with a bounty on his head. Riddick couldn't have someone else dying for him or his sins.

So here he was, living on a frozen wasteland, trying to let his caring go. Trying to trust the Imam with both his and Jack's lives. He'd been on UV6 for almost a year because no one came to the Frigido System. The handful of planets in the system weren't really suitable for humans. UV6 was the only one that could support both animal and human life, if you liked temperatures below freezing, and that was during the high for the day. There were a few species of animals and fish --if you could break through the ice to find them-- but nothing else except tundra and mountains of ice and snow.

There were a handful of caves and crevices where the animals nested. Riddick had carved out a little niche in what used to be an Urzo den. They weren't going to need it anymore. Their fur had made good linings to block the wind and their bones made excellent weapons.

He'd used the hides from the two long-horn Mammoths he'd been able to take down to protect the small ship he arrived in --just in case he ever needed to get off of UV6.

Riddick jogged across the tundra then jumped between the land fissures that almost looked like a fingerprint when he looked down on them from the cave he now called home. By the time he entered the cave the fire he'd left was beginning to die. He hung the three snow hares on the bone hook and added the dried carcasses of last week’s catch to the fire.

The center of the cave was well heated and the small amount of smoke disappeared up through a natural vent in the ice and stone. Drops of water from melted ice dripped into a large pelt lined bowl. In this cave he could strip several of the layers of clothing he wore and still be warm.

He wanted to shave the facial hair that was growing unmanageably and sometimes froze when he was outside. The long hair on his head wasn't much better, but with the temperatures outside it wasn't worth the risk of not having the added protection the hair brought, so instead he turned to preparing the rabbits to keep his mind off the annoying hair and remaining chill. He knew the last of the supplies he brought with him would be gone in another few months and while he could last here without them he had to decide soon if he was going to risk a supply run or stay put.

The feeling of being watched had Riddick spinning around and the knife in his hand was released in mid spin only to be caught by a pale white man who looked like a walking corpse with red-rimmed eyes and dark hair tied in some type of braids. The corpse of a man was dressed almost entirely in black; but there was something about the eyes that drew Riddick's attention for a moment, before whatever it was passed and Riddick's thoughts returned to cataloging the man. The clothes would not protect him should he step outside into the colder temperatures beyond the cave; if they were even staving off the cold now.

Riddick observed the man as he in turn was watched. "You real?" Riddick finally asked. He couldn't make out a heartbeat, and Riddick's hearing was very good, and the man had not come through the only entrance to the cave large enough for him to fit.

"If I was real or not, I can only imagine how your mind would answer that question," the man answered, the edges of his lips turned up as if the answer was somehow funny --as if the man somehow knew him. "But I am, or was, real. As real as the woman you sometimes see when you dream. The one who tries to remind you of who you really are. Furyan."

Riddick tried to ignore that comment but couldn't, but he would have to worry about it later as the man moved about the cave. He watched him walk around the fire pit before dropping his hand to wave through the flames. The flames flickered but the man's hand did not burn. "You could say that I am here and I am not," the man said. "She has let me pick a single moment to interact with and I have chosen this one." The man circled closer. "And you."

"She?"

"The Threshold. She who brings transcendence and truth."

"You look like a corpse."

"Death does often come with her, yes."

Riddick shifted. He wasn't sure who or what this thing was but the last vision he'd talked to had him waking with his silver eyes. "What do you want?"

The corpse made a sound of disgust. "Long ago, I would have answered, passion and adventure. Recently, I would have always answered with transcendence; now, not so much. Truth, vengeance, a new future, any one of those would do." The man's eyes closed for a brief second before he spoke again. "I've come to repay a debt yet owed," he said with conviction. "That will, in return, save both you and I." The man waved his hand through the fire again. "And perhaps, a few others here and there."

Riddick did not like the sound of that.

"You have a chance to save young Kyra and yourself, but the window is small and growing even smaller. His fleet grows and not even three months from now will I be able to help --I won't care to either; I'll be gone-- and she, young Kyra, has already started her plans to run from her protector --the holy man-- to look for you."

Riddick surged forward, surprised that he could push the other man into the wall, surprised he could draw blood. Surprised even more by the smile on the man's face. "Who are you?" Riddick demanded. "Where is Jack?"

The man looked down at the wound and smiled like it was truly a happy surprise to see the bleeding wound. "I cannot answer the first, that was part of her, the Threshold's, bargain and even I am slowly forgetting, for true death is coming for this version of myself and with that all that I know and that which existed will be changed.

"The second, young Kyra, she is planning her escape. She will do what she thinks is necessary to find you, even trying to become that which you hate the most until she ends up on a planet that spends half its day looking like this one and the other half looking like the pits of hell. It's called," the living corpse paused as if trying to remember the name.

Riddick knew the planet. One of the few slams he'd never had the pleasure of visiting. "Crematoria," he filled in.

"Yes, that's it," the man finished. "But at this very moment, I cannot say where she is in her plans. The young, they change their minds so often."

Riddick knew the man was real now, or was, for he could smell the blood on his knife and it was not of an animal on this planet or his own; but it wasn't right either. There was a stench to it but also the smell of ozone and he had a moment to realize the blood was evaporating.

"Eat your rabbit," the ghost of a man told him even as his body began fading from Riddick's grasp. The man looked down at his body as it faded away and like before with the wound there was no shock on the man's face only an expression that Riddick would call resigned. "The bargain is complete," the ghost said. "It's your choice now as to the end result. The travel to the Moirai System will take you several weeks, even in cryo. You'll know which one when you get there. And, it will not be I you see."

~~~***~~~***~~~***~~~

The Moirai System was much like the Lupus, Logos, and Helion Systems. Outlying planets --some inhabited, some not, some inhospitable, but all with a few inner planets that were highly populated, industrialized, government run, and often had some type of space transportation industry. The Moirai system was further out from the other systems and all but three of its fourteen planets were habitable.

Government run meant cities, police, criminals and military. It meant tech and facial recognition systems, mercs and traders. It also meant schools, libraries, and families. For Riddick it meant everyone and everything was a threat. There was a reason he liked the outer planets.

Aisa was somewhere in the middle. The planet capitol was like most, wealthy and industrialized but it butted right up against the farming lands. Aisa's main export was its crops --old Earth fruits and vegetables that couldn't grow naturally elsewhere. Riddick couldn't believe this was the planet he had chosen to land on. The planet was, Riddick could only think of one word to describe it: normal.

He hated visions more than he hated the cold. He hated predictions and fate but here he was standing on the hillside watching harvesters gently shake fruit from the trees. He nicked one of the fruits and had to admit that it was tasty as all hell, but you wouldn't catch him living or hiding as a farmer. Though, he doubted mercs would think to look for him here.

Further down the hillside was a funeral and amongst the mourners was Riddick's mystery man. The man didn't look like a corpse. He wasn't pale or gaunt, and while Riddick couldn't see the man's eyes at this distance he would bet they were not sunken in and etched in redness, nor would there be those circular scars on his neck. This version of the man had the build of a farmer whose muscles and movements had been honed by hard work and later the military --unless the uniform and sidearm hidden underneath the jacket indicated something else.

Riddick moved down the hillside, closer to the funeral. The man knelt by the funeral pyre, head down and face partially obscured by dark hair, shorter than the corpse's but not normal military regulation. He was speaking softly in one of the ancient Earth languages. The language fell from the man's mouth in smooth graceful sounds and without hesitation. There had been higher schooling in the man's past and yet he'd still chosen to go into the military.

The information Riddick was gathering on the not-corpse of a man formed an interesting picture. Farmer who went to the Ed Academy somewhere, probably the one on Moirai Prime --this System’s capitol planet, and then left it or was recruited to join the Moirai Planetary Defense.

It still didn’t tell Riddick how this man knew Jack. Then again, if the ghost corpse had been telling the truth, the man in front of him might not know. He might just be needed to find her. Riddick didn't like puzzles.

Riddick watched as a woman with short, dark blond hair approached the man he had traveled so far a distance to see. She stopped when she stood only a few feet behind him. "Vaako," she called, and now Riddick had a name.

~~~***~~~

Vaako didn't glance up as he heard someone approach him. This was his time of mourning. The last of his family was gone. Killed in a shuttle explosion or collision the reports said. There had been little wreckage at the coordinates and the wakes of other ships had covered any chance of discovering what had happened. The last message sent had been a garbled call for help and something about several large vessels passing through the Tarkin Belt. The only image attached to the distress call was of something that looked like a comet way off in the distance.

"Vaako."

Kerstin Dahl. She'd been his partner throughout defense training and then after they had routinely been stationed together. He was probably the only male soldier in their class whose nose she hadn't broken or caused other bodily damage too. Her temper was one most people tried not to cross.

He said one final goodbye at the pyre and stood. "You still taking the job with the Lupus Corps?" Vaako asked even though he knew the answer. Every year the Lupus System's Planetary Guard came calling and for the last five years both he and Dahl had turned down the very generous offer. With Vaako basically grounded until his family's estate had been settled and Dahl not wanting to work with many others, he would honestly have been surprised if she had declined the offer this time around.

"Yes," she answered without missing a beat. "Leave tonight. I hate leaving you like this, but it's time I leave here. It's too..." Dahl spread her arms to encompass all that was around them. "Besides, I always hated farming."

Vaako snorted and Dahl grinned. "If you were female," she said. "I'd take you to bed, because mourning is not a good look on you."

Vaako actually laughed. "If you were male I'd probably take you up on that offer." He breathed in a sigh. "Be careful out there, Dahl," he said, giving her a stern look. "Watch your temper but don't take shit from anyone."

"Ever known me to?" she said before stepping closer and pulling Vaako in for a kiss that was lips and tongue. When she broke the kiss she shoved him back. "Not bad for a guy," she said, spinning on her heel and walking away. "Don't do something dumb, Vaako."

"Ever known me to?" he called after her.

"There's a first time for everything."

Vaako rolled his eyes and turned to walk up the road through the orchard. He technically had three months to make a decision --sell the land, stay, go back into service, run away into space-- before he was expected to report back or resign. Right now he liked the last option best; no matter how out of character that option was for him, grabbing a shuttle and just flying off seemed to be the choice he kept returning to. The chances he would do something that foolish though were almost zero to none. Dahl knew this, and so did he. He would take the three months to decide who to sell the land to and then go back into the service.

He had given up on being a farmer of any sort when he outpaced all the other children in his classes at school. The Education Academy had come calling when he was fourteen and then several years later the military had followed.

Between one step and another he stepped onto a side path and jogged down two rows of trees and over one. He was being followed and it wasn't Dahl. Vaako knew people wanted the land --not only the farmers whose land bumped against his family's but the government who wanted to expand the city. If he died suddenly the land would revert back to the planetary government as Vaako's will had not been updated and the land had originally been granted to his family hundreds of years ago when Aisa had first been settled.

He came around one of the large trees, his pulse gun already charged to find a bald man with dark glasses covering his eyes eating one of the fruits from his tree. Vaako made a face. The man was not from the government, the clothing alone told him that. The man's stance said he didn't have a care in the world that a pulse weapon was aimed at him. The muscles under the tight dark colored shirt said military training of some sort but the man did not read as a mercenary either. And definitely not a farmer.

"Are you going to pay for that?" he asked as the man continued to eat the fruit. "And, you are not here to buy my land," Vaako said, not lowering the gun. "There's no price on my head, at least that I'm aware of, and you are not a merc. So, what do you want?" he asked finally coming to a decision to lower his arm but not put away the gun.

The man tossed the apple core to the side of the road. "The fruit was tasty. Don't have a credit on me and how do you know I'm not here to kill you?" the man asked.

Vaako could hear the intrigue in the question and figured most people gave the other man a wide berth. "I would more than likely already be dead if you had wanted nothing but a corpse to talk to."

The man quirked his lips at his answer. "Weird turn of phrase there," the man said with a slight shrug of his shoulders before continuing. "I was told to tell you that running off to space is the best option no matter how out of character it is for you, and that your Nona always said you knew when to ride the wind.

Vaako raised his gun again and this time his finger flicked the sensor that turned the shot from stun to kill. "Who are you?" he demanded.

His great grandmother had died two years before his birth and he had never told a soul that he talked to her on a semi-regular basis in his dreams.

"What are you?" he added. Vaako didn't like the Elementals, they were always stirring things up with their prophecies. This man didn't look like an Elemental but it didn't mean he wasn't one of their so called envoys as they didn't have worshipers per se.

The man stepped under the shade of one of the fruit trees and removed his glasses. Vaako saw the silver eyes and lowered his weapon towards the ground. "Furyan," he whispered, knowing they had all but disappeared thirty years ago.

"Riddick," the man answered.

~~~***~~~

Riddick had first heard the word Furyan in his dreams, spoken by the petite blond-haired woman with braided hair. Everything he could find on Furyans seemed to be fairy tales for children --a race of spiritual warriors who were one of the first four groups to leave Earth and settle amongst the stars. Furyans were said to have chosen a planet with an odd orbit, hard to map and with climates and landscapes that were both rigid and unforgiving, yet beautiful and life affirming. The planet slowly changed the settlers generation after generation --made them almost a new species, more agile with better senses and increased stamina and strength.

Riddick knew a lot of the stories could describe him but he'd pushed them aside thinking it was just him wanting to belong to somewhere --to something that explained him. Not even the living statue on the Kublai Khan had made him think Furyans were actually real.

Nothing had, until the word had been spoken by Vaako.

He watched Vaako holster the gun and take off his own glasses. His name hadn't seemed to cause any type of reaction and Riddick thought perhaps he might just be spending too much time on the fringes if he expected everyone to know he was an escaped convict and murderer. He looked into Vaako's eyes, the corpse version of the man had eyes so dark as if the life had been sucked from them as much as it had been from the man's skin. This man had eyes with a gold ring around the pupil and the rest of the eye seemed to shift from blue to green depending on the angle.

The man raised his eyebrow in question and Riddick swore the colors of the iris swirled and changed. Maybe he should be asking Vaako what he was.

"Obviously someone dead sent you to me, Riddick, what do you want?"

"That happen to you a lot?" he asked because while Riddick had dreams of a woman he was sure was dead, he couldn't talk to her; she just always talked to him. Sometimes he understood the words but most often not.

Vaako shook his head ever so lightly. "No, but apparently there's a first time for everything."

Riddick took a chance and glanced out towards the horizon, from under the tree enough of the sun was blocked that he could get a better sense of the area where Vaako had led them both. It was out of the way, there were no harvesters or farmers in sight but the light from the funeral pyre was still lit.

"It will stay lit for three months," Vaako told him and then added, "I could see the pyre's reflection in your silver eyes when you glanced towards it."

"Observant," was all Riddick said. The not-corpse version of Vaako was not what he had been anticipating. Though, he wasn't sure what he had been expecting and he still didn't know what or how this was going to help him find Jack.

"Who told you to find me?” Vaako asked him, turning to walk back toward the pyre.

"A corpse."

Vaako gave him an exasperated look. "Can you clarify that for me a little?"

Riddick chuckled but followed Vaako back down the hill. Riddick was impressed that Vaako didn't react, just kept walking. "The ghost of a dying man that might not actually be dead yet?"

Vaako didn't respond for a moment, just walked around the pyre to the other side and sat down on one of the stone benches that looked back up the hillside. The pyre was in the center of a stone and flower garden that was meters from a small lake and Riddick figured it was probably used for more than just funerals. The position of the benches, sitting as he and Vaako were, kept the small lake at their backs and anyone approaching from the other directions would clearly be seen.

"Perhaps it would be best if you started at..."

"The beginning," Riddick guessed.

Vaako snorted. "Oh hell no. Let's take the quickest route that gets me to why you are here."

Riddick smirked and if they had met under any other circumstances he thought he would have liked this man. For now he started with the ghost in the cave.

~~~***~~~

Vaako quickly learned that Riddick was really a man of few words. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose and stared at the base of pyre. A dying version of himself, probably from a future that had now changed, had gone to Riddick to repay a debt that neither of the current versions of themselves knew about. Perfect; and now he was getting a headache. Time travel, but not. If the ghost was an after image then... Vaako stopped trying to think of the hows and whys as they would just make the slowly building headache worse.

"Did he, I, say anything else?" he asked, not looking up.

"Transcendence."

The word caused Vaako's body to shudder even as he sat next to the pyre. "That doesn't sound like me. Not even in ten to twelve years, my spiritual beliefs have never... not unless something," he stopped mid-sentence and stood up. His mind already trying to grasp onto something he couldn't pinpoint from memory alone. "We need to go to the Archives."

Vaako took a moment to take a bundle of leaves and dried fruit and toss it into the pyre, filling the air with the scent of apples, cinnamon, and herbs.

He didn't wait to see if Riddick followed him or not. He walked down one of the rows of trees then turned left onto a stone path. Almost a kilometer later there was a set of stone steps that led up to an elevated skyway. "We have to go into the city," he said. "Try to look like you," Vaako was going to say belong but that wouldn't do. Riddick didn't look like a farmer and he was hard pressed to believe anyone would ever buy Riddick as a citilite.

Taking off his jacket he handed it to Riddick. "Put that on, leave it open," he said. He and Riddick were about the same size, just not across the shoulders, as long as Riddick didn't try to close the jacket it should be fine. The jacket made Riddick look like he was part of the Moirai Planetary Defense and the weather was just warm enough that Vaako without the jacket wouldn't draw attention. "Just keep your glasses on and the collar up."

Riddick looked at the jacket and then the skyway that was carrying people toward the city and looked about to protest. "Suck it up," Vaako said. "You can look like you're in the military for a few hours."

"I was in the military."

"Then this should be a breeze," Vaako tossed back, stepping onto the moving skyway.

He felt Riddick join him. Close enough they were almost touching and could talk without being overheard. "How did you know I was Furyan? Riddick asked.

"The eyes," Vaako replied without looking toward the other man. "They are quite distinctive if you know your myths and history."

Vaako felt more than saw Riddick get his back up and could clearly hear it in Riddick's response as he moved into Vaako's personal space. "I paid to have it done while in the slam," Riddick hissed.

"Did you really?" Vaako asked, turning slightly. His whisper taking on a sharper edge. "Don't you think if people could have eyes that saw different spectrums that there would be more people out there with shining eyes?"

Riddick growled.

"Eye shines are a version of a slam's urban legend," Vaako commented. "Whoever helped you empower your vision was probably a Furyan or someone who had grown up there or knew the legends." He didn't let Riddick try to contradict him. "Probably got you to relax your mind and body enough that without you realizing the person was able to walk you through finding that part of yourself you didn't know was missing."

"How do you know so much about Furyans?"

"My Nona," Vaako said, turning his back on Riddick. "She went back to her planet of birth and for nearly thirty years no one from there has been seen again," Vaako replied. "Until today."

"You're Furyan?" Riddick questioned.

Vaako glanced over his shoulder at Riddick. "A quarter, but no one really believes they exist. Even thirty years ago most people thought Furyans and the Keres System was nothing but tall tales told to frighten or inspire children to behave and do better."

~~~***~~~

The Archive was a library. A library with an entire section of actual books. Real books made of paper, board, and leather. Riddick couldn't recall ever seeing an actual library that wasn't all digital. The special restricted section they stood in smelled old to Riddick, but not musty. More like ink and old leather. The books looked old, older than he would expect for Moirai. He could make out three of the languages on the spines of the books but could read only two of them.

"Some are journals from the first settlers to Aisa," Vaako told him as if reading his thoughts. "Others were brought from Moirai Prime as people took the land grants. Many are from elsewhere and some are even from Earth, and a few from ship travelers who ended their journeys here."

Riddick wasn't sure what they were doing here until Vaako pulled a book off of a shelf and brought it over to the chest high stone table in the center of the room. Vaako carefully opened the very old book. The first page read Journal of Malcolm Long but the rest of the book seemed to be written in a language Riddick could not read, nor was the date in a format he understood.

In the few short hours he had been with Vaako Riddick still had no idea who the other man was --soldier, farmer, academic. They had walked right into the restricted section of the Archive as if Vaako being there was typical; yet the man had clearly grown up outside of the city and now carried the rank of captain, if Moirai's rank insignias were the same as the other system's.

Vaako flipped to the middle of the book and then carefully started to scan the pages by running his finger just over the center of the page without actually touching the ink.

"Who's Malcolm Long"? Riddick finally asked.

Vaako didn't look up but still answered. "He was a spacer. He left Earth in the final purge. The first part of this journal is his, the second belongs to someone else. Possibly a grandson or maybe just someone who came across the book and decided to use it. Here it is," Vaako said, stopping on a page and letting his finger actually touch the text. The language wasn't one Riddick could read but it was of little concern as Vaako began reading the passage:

"Through pain and transcendence shall you find the new world. Through pain and transcendence shall you enter the realm of the worthy. Through pain and transcendence shall you find a life of welcome and ravishing evernew in death. Through your unmaking shall you become whole. On the threshold of pain and transcendence shall you see your true path."

This they spouted as men and women moved forward, leaving their families for the mark. Burned into their necks as they passed through the large doors into the Necropolis. Turning their backs on who they were. Never again did I see those I worked beside. Though their screams during the purifying lingered in my dreams for days.

"Religious doctrine," Riddick acknowledged, he'd heard a lot of that even before meeting the Imam but even this beat the stuff sprouted by the people who lived out on the fringes of space. Plus, the Imam, while religious, Riddick knew never felt the need to force his beliefs on others.

"Yes," Vaako said, turning the book so Riddick could see an image. "Is that what the things on my neck looked like?"

Riddick leaned in closer. "Similar, yes. Lower," he touched Vaako's neck. "About here. And smaller, less ragged." Vaako didn't move at the touch, didn't seem to breathe, but Riddick didn't think he had either. He wasn't sure what possessed him to actually touch the other man and maybe later he would ponder on why he had done it. Right now he needed to know how this was going to help him find Jack.

Vaako took a small breath before saying, "This part of the book is written in Boroneauian. It starts with a telling of a story of a comet that turned into a great ship as it approached the planet. It took them all to another world to work on this prestigious palace and those who were chosen were welcomed to the new future and a chance to visit the under side of the universe to find new life."

"Crazy ramblings of a spacer."

"Perhaps," Vaako agreed while still reading through the next several pages of the journal. "The journal is several hundred years old. Though nothing is to say that there's not some truth in it. After all, you're a Furyan and I know there's a journal or two on your people in this library that many believe to just be a set of fairy tales."

Riddick watched as Vaako looked up from the journal and tilted his head before spinning on his heel to walk into a certain section of books. He returned a moment later with a leather bound book. This time Vaako flipped through the pages as if the book offended him.

"Elementals and their prophecies," Vaako said with disgust. "Among other things in here, there's about fifty End of Days prophecies, ranging from single planets to the entire universe."

"Don't like Elementals much?" Not that Riddick had ever met one. They were less myth than Furyans but also supposedly one of the first four factions to leave Earth for space. Believing that Platonian physics --earth, air, water, fire, and the aether-- was the true path to peace in the universe. And that their ability to calculate the future would save them.

"No," Vaako said and didn't speak again for several minutes. "Don't think you do either," Vaako observed when he finally did speak. "The things Nona says to me never makes sense until years later. When I need them to, but the Elementals need for balance sounds a lot like this Necropolis' transcendence."

Riddick didn't understand. Not until he looked down at the page Vaako was reading. This time it was in a language he understood. The prophecy, the start of his life laid out on paper. Written by some crazy woman. He'd never outright wanted to murder someone --if you tried to kill him, Riddick had no qualms about killing you instead-- if it was kill or be killed, Riddick chose to fight for his right to live. But standing here, seeing the words in this book, Riddick thought he might just make an exception for this Elemental and truly earn that premeditated murder rap on his crime sheet.

~~~***~~~

Vaako flipped the page and two more prophecies were there. On a whim he actually turned the pages back several and found another. The Elementals had been pushing this thing for hundreds of years. Worded differently each time but wanting the same outcome.

When he looked up to see how the other man was reacting to the passages Vaako could see the blue glow of a handprint's outline bleeding through Riddick's black shirt. Without thinking he reached up with his right hand and placed it over the mark. It was like the mark was vibrating, having pulled in power from somewhere and now wanted to release it. No, was releasing.

He grasped Riddick's bicep with his other hand and said, "Let it go, Riddick." Riddick's eyes reflected the same light as the mark. "Whatever is building inside you, let's not let it out inside this small room filled with very old books, okay?" Vaako could tell the entire building was shaking as the nearby table and chairs seemed to dance across the floor and the bookshelves began to shake. The temperature in the room seemed to fluctuate, rise and fall, as if they were in part of an approaching storm.

Vaako felt pain and hatred, anger and despair, desperation and fear like he had never felt before and knew it was coming from Riddick. He couldn't move, not his body or his hand that now seemed to glow where it rested over the mark on Riddick's chest. "I promise," Vaako swore. "I will help you find this Elemental after we rescue your young friend. I will show you your home. I will help you have your vengeance and your peace."

The air around them seemed to burn and rush, creating noise where nothing else could be heard. Vaako screamed as his hand felt like it was being crushed. He fell to his knees, breaking contact, his hand clutched to his chest as several of the nearby chairs were knocked over.

Without Vaako's presence, Riddick seemed to stumble and he too fell to his knees. Riddick lifted his head and bellowed out a roar of anguish before his eyes focused on Vaako's. Vaako's wounded hand was moved away from his chest and Riddick placed his own hand above Vaako's heart. Vaako swore he felt his heart stop for a moment, but in that same instant his hand stopped hurting and then there was nothing but stillness.

"Riddick," Vaako whispered and then there was darkness.

~~~***~~~***~~~

"Wake my child," the melodic woman's voice called to him. "Now it's time for you to wake. To truly wake. To remember. Bear witness to the past and to the present. Bring forth the future."

His body felt heavy. Wrung out. His emotions were stripped for all to see. He was hollow. Images and scenes moved in front of him until he was lost in them and the feelings they brought. Children playing. Fruit on trees. Family. Training. Creatures. Running. Fighting. Attraction. Allies. Love. Risk. Vengeance. Partners. Light. Beauty.

He closed his eyes trying to block them out. Trying to sort them out. He didn't remember raptor creatures. He didn't remember swinging from trees.

"You are you and more," the woman's voice reminded him. "Furyan no matter your birth."

He opened his eyes to see a planet full of graves but how could that be if no one was left to bury the dead?

"Find the child. Change the prophecy. The wrath is yours to yield."

His vision was darkening again.

"Follow him. Bring him."

~~~***~~~***~~~

Riddick took in a deep breath and opened his eyes. He was sitting on the stone tile floor of the Archive, slumped against the stone table they had been using. Books were scattered across the floor. The one wooden table was halfway across the room and its few chairs were overturned.

It only took him a second to realize that outside of feeling like he'd been thrown against a wall he had no real injuries. Even the soft glowing handprint that had been on his chest had faded; at least for now.

That's when he noticed that Vaako was not moving. The other man was laying on his side, back to Riddick. Riddick gently rolled him over and checked for injuries. The only thing Riddick found was a handprint on Vaako's chest, glow fading but still visible beneath the black uniform shirt; and a symbol burned into the palm of Vaako's right hand.

Vaako coughed and then opened his eyes. For a moment Riddick thought they were silver but they soon settled into the strange mix of color Riddick had noticed before.

"Fuyans," Vaako said softly, rubbing his hand against his chest. "Never can do things the easy way."

Riddick laughed. Truly laughed for the first time in years. "Takes one to know one," he said, climbing to his feet and offering his hand down to Vaako.

The other man accepted the gesture. "About that," he started to say and then changed his mind. "Later. First if you could move the table back and upright the chairs. I'll put the books back so no one will know what we were reviewing --if anyone should care to check."

Outside of the restricted section the building looked like a minor quake had hit. "Does the city often have quakes?" queried Riddick.

"There was one about ten years ago, so no one will suspect that you shook up the place," Vaako grimaced slightly as he looked around. "Also, the Archive has passive sensors around the doors which may or may not be working at the moment," Vaako continued. "Not that we're taking anything out of here."

They didn't speak again until they were on one of the skyways headed out of the city.

"We're not going to talk about what happened," Riddick stated, shoving his hands into the pockets of the borrowed jacket he still wore. He wasn't, he couldn't, faith wasn't his thing. Spiritual warrior his ass. Oh, absolutely I believe in God. His words to the Imam coming back to him but they hadn't meant anything at the time. Then he remembered the Imam's words to him the day before he left: Faith and God do not have to be one and the same for everyone. Young Jack believes in you. She has faith in you. I trust that God will put you on a path that is right for you. You believe, have faith, that you must leave. Nothing says that we are not all correct in our beliefs.

"I have two questions?" Vaako asked and Riddick could see him rubbing his left thumb over the brand on the palm of his right hand. "Who did you see in the vision, dream, whatever?"

Riddick glanced away, kept his eyes on the passing groves of trees. "An old woman, hair pulled away from her face by a few thin white braids, silver eyes, dressed in purple and black."

He felt Vaako move. "Nona," the other man said, stepping off the skyway at one of the gates. "Then my person must be your ghost. Shorter than either of us, very fit, blonde hair tied into many braids, and armed for a fight."

"Shirah." Riddick didn't elaborate, just followed Vaako to another skyway that took them east.

"Was there a swirling light in the sky?" Vaako asked after they walked a few steps to stand in an empty area on the moving skyway. "Like an aurora but more deadly. Shades of reds and golds, a little green; rolling like fog from a dark abyss."

"Beautiful death," Riddick answered with a nod but said nothing else.

Trees gave way to water which gave way to packed earth until a small settlement of some sort appeared on the horizon before Riddick realized where they were. The small spaceport where he had docked his ship.

He had walked from the spaceport, letting instinct guide him until he had found himself on a path through Vaako's trees and the man himself kneeling at a funeral pyre. Riddick grabbed Vaako's arm. "Why did you bring us here?"

Vaako didn't try to tug his arm from Riddick's grasp. "You did not magically appear on Aisa or in the Moirai System, Riddick, no matter what the tales say Furyans can do. You came here by ship. We will leave here by ship."

Riddick backed them into an alleyway to be out of sight of the pedestrians and cameras. Everything he was, was telling him he could trust the man standing in front of him. Riddick maybe counted two other people --Jack and the Imam-- that he trusted. Trust was not something that came easy or natural to Riddick. No matter what he felt.

"This spaceport?"

"You would have avoided the main port, the military port, and the big shipping port. That leaves this one and the one closer to Maysville. I took an educated guess."

"A guess?" Riddick almost laughed but then realized he couldn't. He'd followed a dream. "Fine," he growled, not wanting to admit anything else and wanting off the planet before he did. "Let's go."

~~~***~~~

Four weeks later Vaako was still having a hard time believing that he had boarded an unknown vessel with a man who he would later discover was apparently an escaped sociopath with a really large bounty on his head. Riddick had forgotten to mention those tiny bits of useful knowledge and after the last twenty-four hours Vaako had he was so tempted to turn in the other man for the bounty.

The sociopath part, Vaako wasn't worried about. Riddick wasn't so much a sociopath as he was crazy --with a little intelligent insanity thrown in for good measure. At least that was how he saw it. Riddick had a strict moral code that he tried to keep to and a rather weird sense of humor. The bounty though, Vaako was so tempted.

"You're having too much fun to do that," Riddick said and grinned as he turned in the pilot chair to look at him; clearly knowing what Vaako was thinking and not really bothered by it.

Vaako slouched down in the co-pilot chair and covered his face with his hands before sighing. "If I ever see Dahl again I'm going to owe her fifty credits for going and doing something stupid."

He heard Riddick's laugh and tried to ignore it. As of yesterday, he had a bounty on his head too. It was only for five thousand credits and was at least for him to be alive for questioning in association with a Riddick sighting. Vaako found that odd and had to wonder if part of the reported body count associated with Riddick's criminal file were witnesses that the Company didn't want around to counter what was being officially recorded. Five thousand credits was low enough that most bounty hunters would ignore it and most people might turn themselves in for collection of the money --they would just never live to collect it. Vaako truly believed that now; that if he turned himself in, his name would be added to Riddick’s murder list.

Whatever Riddick had seen back when he was in the Service, they didn't want it coming to light. Riddick's 'kill before being killed' mindset had only helped with the campaign against him. Riddick had finally told him about Sigma 3. From the training he received there to the slavery ring and the lost evidence he had gathered against them. Also the simple fact that he had never discovered who the higher-ups were in the chain, but how he had guessed that some of the evidence must have pointed to them.

Vaako's first week with Riddick had been calling his contacts in other planetary systems. He had asked them to quietly keep an eye out for the daughter of a family friend who had runaway to see the universe. It was a common enough occurrence that no one would find it a suspicious request.

They had spent the next two weeks in light cyro sleep --which was a new experience for Vaako as in the past he used to force himself to succumb to the sleep, now he couldn't. It was like he was in a continuous waking sleep where he could feel the ship's air circulation system, feel the temperature changes. When they woke they had been a day out from Helion Prime where Vaako had landed them using his credentials with the Moirai Planetary Defense instead of going with Riddick's plan of trying to sneak into the system. Helion Prime's planetary perimeter was well monitored and their chances of making it all the way down, and landing, unnoticed were about five percent.

"You really don't visit many of the Prime planets, do you?" Vaako asked and had not been surprised by the answer of no. "Then we do this my way," Vaako said. "The way that will not get us shot down and or arrested."

Riddick had wanted to know where the fun in that was, but Vaako had ignored him and brought the ship in quite legally.

Imam Abu al-Walid was, for the most part, exactly like Riddick had described him. A holy man of great faith and conviction who was desperately upset for not noticing that Jack was preparing to run away. What had been missing from the description had been the wife, Lajjun, and the baby girl, Ziza.

It didn't take much for Vaako to understand Jack's plan. She waited until Ziza had been born, helping Lajjun around the house and setting up the nursery. Then two weeks after the child's birth, during one of the baby's middle of the night crying cycles and while both parents' attentions were on the baby, Jack had made a break for it; knowing she wouldn't be missed until morning. Probably not even then. She had been getting up early, eating breakfast and leaving for school and reappearing at home half an hour after her lessons finished. It bought her time until mid-afternoon before anyone would notice she was missing.

"She planned," Vaako commented.

Riddick made a noise. "This time. Her last plan of sneaking onto a merchant vessel didn't end so well."

Vaako had learned the story of what happened on M6-117 after coming out of cryo. It explained the raptor-like creatures he'd seen in the vision at the library and again in the waking dreams of cyro. Getting information out of Riddick was all about asking at the right moment.

~~~***~~~

In his own way, Riddick was disappointed that Abu had lost Jack, but he couldn't blame the Imam for Jack's actions. Or at least he didn't once Vaako berated him in that silent way of his. One eyebrow raised as if asking what he, Riddick, would have done at that age and in the same place as Jack.

Riddick wasn't sure what his relationship was with Vaako. He was the first person besides Jack that he had truly let into his personal space and with Jack he had known where she was. He had tracked her movements and actions. With Vaako, however, he didn't. They moved around each other as if they had always done so. Riddick didn't like to be crowded in but on the little planet jumper of a ship there wasn't much room for two people and yet after the first day he was comfortable with Vaako in his personal space.

"I believe young Jack thought she would have no home here once Ziza was born," Lajjun's words brought Riddick out of his thoughts. "But while I did not give birth to her, I believed her to be as much the daughter as the one I have. You will bring her back to me, yes?"

"She has been on her own, running from herself," Abu started.

Riddick knew what Jack thought of him, looked up to him like a younger sibling would. He ran away, so she did too. Even if his running was so she wouldn't have to, she had not understood that. He was not certain if at thirteen he would have either.

Vaako touched him on the arm and he didn't pull away. Riddick would come back to what exactly was happening between him and the other man very soon because ignoring Vaako was becoming harder and harder. And the thought of Vaako not being there was very unpleasant. The man also had a way of getting him to talk about his past and he wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. He did know it hadn’t driven Vaako off.

"I think I have something," Vaako said and turned the little tablet he'd been working on around so the others could see. A young girl, curves just starting to appear and with short wavy hair walked into a building --that was Kyra, Riddick thought, not the little girl pretending to be a boy and later pretending to be him. The thought didn't last long as Vaako sped up the feed and half an hour later a boy with dark clothes and a shaved head walked out of the store. "She's probably wrapped her chest," Vaako indicated. "Not sure how effective that will be as time moves along or if someone looks too closely. And who she falls in with. But damn, if she doesn't now look enough like you to be a younger brother."

Riddick made a noise and even to his own ears it sounded like a wounded growl and walked out of the room to the small garden at the back of the house. His good intentions always came back to bite him in the ass. The part of him that had been alone wanted to leave this planet. Forget it all. He'd gotten Jack off M6-117 and the Kublai Khan, and that's where he should have left it. But he hadn't. That small part of him that had wanted a family, a connection, had held onto her.

"We'll find her," Vaako's voice said from behind him.

When Riddick turned to look at Vaako he saw the talking corpse from the ice cave. He blinked his eyes to clear the image and his Vaako --the one that shared the hand print on the chest, the one who bore a mark on his palm, the one he wanted more and more as each day passed, stood there.

Riddick reached for Vaako's hand and turned it over. "You know what this mark means, don't you?" Riddick had no idea what the symbol on Vaako's palm meant. Vaako had received the burn when he had touched the glowing blue handprint on Riddick's chest that day in the library. The burn had faded to look like a birthmark. Light burgundy in color and shaped almost like a spiraling starburst. It felt beautiful and dangerous as Riddick's finger ghosted over the mark.

"I do," Vaako answered, his voice calm and soft even as he quirked an eyebrow in question waiting for whatever else Riddick was about to say or do.

Riddick had this sense that Vaako knew him better than anyone else ever had. It was unnerving in a way that Riddick found slightly exhilarating. "But you're still not going to tell me, are you?" he inquired.

The look Vaako gave him was at once both mischievous and dangerous. "Perhaps, but not here," he said. "Ask me again when we are alone. Away from eyes and ears that do not comprehend what your eyes really mean."

Vaako gently pulled his hand out of Riddick's grasp and Riddick let it go without stepping out of Vaako's personal space. "We need to go to this merchant shop and see what else she acquired within," Vaako said.

"You need new clothes," Riddick answered. "You stand out," Vaako looked him up and down and Riddick conceded that he too could stand out in certain crowds. "Like a cop or a merc," he added.

The two men left Imam Abu al-Walid's home with a promise to find Jack. Riddick knew that the Imam took that to mean and bring her back to Helion Prime, but Riddick wasn't promising that; that would have to be her decision this time.

~~~***~~~

Vaako rotated his shoulders again, testing the movement of the new jacket he wore. The new clothes were in shades of brown --except for his boots which he had kept; as good, well-fitted boots were worth their weight in credits. He'd pulled the longs sides and front of his hair up to rest at center crown of his head. It was a popular style on Aisa for both men and women. If his hair had been a little longer the three segments of hair would have been braided separately and then together --that was how his grandmother had sometimes worn her hair.

Decked out in browns and a longer coat that still allowed easy access to the visible pulse weapon on his thigh he looked nothing like a member of a Planetary Guard. He was too clean to look like a smuggler or a merc. Riddick said he looked like a spacer on planet to do business. Still dangerous looking, and maybe not exactly a fully law-abiding citizen.

Riddick had kept with the black and gray scheme but added a leather jacket and dark tinted glasses instead of the goggles. Riddick alone looked enough like himself but standing with Vaako people probably wouldn't give him much thought. Think of him more as the silent muscle accompanying the off-planet businessman.

"They make forged planetary IDs," Vaako said, looking at the store front for the merchant Jack had visited and noticing a small string of symbols etched into the glass window near the door. If you weren't looking for them, you would miss them. If Helion’s planetary guard knew about the store, they were leaving the merchants in business because it was better to know who the forgers were and where they were located rather than to bring the business down only for two more to popup. Plus he had spotted security cameras along this stretch of stores, probably to keep watch on who entered and left the establishments should something happen in the future.

"Makes docs for transports too," Riddick observed. "Probably has someone at one of the ports that can fix the beacons."

Vaako nodded and reached into his coat pocket and depressed the button on the small device concealed within. The security cameras, both visible and hidden, within a block radius would now be down. Fried beyond what a simple reboot would fix. It would hopefully look like an overload. "Cameras are down," he said, walking towards the doorway of the store.

"Your misspent youth could come in handy," Riddick commented.

"That was Dahl's misspent youth," Vaako answered truthfully.

Riddick laughed. "You're going to owe her more than fifty credits then."

"Please don't remind me," he said sourly and that only earned him another laugh from Riddick.

The inside of the store was dim with racks and shelves of old clothes, antiques, and tech taking up about two-thirds of the store. The rest of the store seemed to be dedicated to temporary piercings, tattoos, and hairstyles that kids could get to piss off their parents.

Vaako knew, from the expression on the sales clerk's face that he had taken one look at them and saw people not from Helion System, but saw credits of the possible illegal deals he was about to make. Which worked out because they not only wanted info on Jack but needed new docs for their ship.

Everything started out so polite that Vaako should have seen the spiral coming once they moved into the backroom; or at least Riddick's fist smashing into the merchant's face after one too many sexual innuendos about Jack. The man had taken another punch or two, before giving Riddick the information they were after.

They'd left the clerk alive but unconscious. Vaako doubted the clerk would be awake and coherent within the next hour. The back business of the store would also be light about three hundred thousand credits. They had left the store as if nothing was wrong. The sales girl who was working the front part of the store hadn't noticed anything was off about their departure and had even wished them a pleasant day.

An alarm started to sound as they boarded their new ship --the Vengeance. The ship's name had been interesting, the shipyard master asked if they were renaming and they had both answered yes and with the same name. The Vengeance was faster, slicker, better armed, and almost three times the size of Riddick's little planet-jumper ship. It was larger than they needed but no one would expect Riddick on this type of ship and it did give him room to prowl about.

They were off the planet before the planetary police arrived at the shipyard.

"Now I've really crossed the line," Vaako said with a sigh, punching the coordinates in and sending the ship into light-drive. The lights of the stars as they appeared to stretch making the cockpit glow. "One must accept the path he has chosen for himself,” Vaako said quietly, “and move forward until the road once again asks him to choose."

"Fate?" Riddick asked and Vaako could hear both the question and disgust in that one word.

Vaako stood from the pilot's chair. "No," he said. "Fate gives us the paths, but we choose which ones to take. The easy, the hard; life, death."

"Which one did you take?" Now Riddick's voice sound intrigued.

Vaako laughed and leaned forward into Riddick's personal space, grabbing Riddick by the back of the head and pulling him forward. The kiss was short, rough, and ended with Vaako saying, "Yours."

~~~***~~~

Riddick sat in the copilot's seat for several minutes looking forward out into the light streaked darkness before getting up and following Vaako aft to the one berth that had clearly been used as either the captain's or owner’s.

The Vengeance had a few private berths, a nice size galley, plenty of storage bays, internal access to engineering, and a small flight deck. If he had to guess, the ship, at one time or another, had probably been commissioned for a family. None of that mattered right now though as he stood at the cabin door.

Vaako's boots and jacket were already off and the other man was pulling his shirt over his head. Paths, Riddick thought and understood as he watched for another moment before entering the room, grasping Vaako by the back of the head and claiming his mouth.

Hands moved across Vaako’s body. Touching, mapping, claiming.

Hours later Riddick stretched and watched as Vaako shifted but didn't wake. Their skin both bore marks from teeth and nails but it was the most relaxed Riddick had probably felt since his childhood. He knew that if he chose to stop looking for Jack that Vaako would come with him. That together they could find Furya, would find Furya. He even knew that if Vaako wanted to return to Aisa and become a farmer that he would follow. Though he also knew that Vaako would never chose that path; that he believed the gate to that road had closed when he left with Riddick.

He lifted Vaako's palm, the one that now bore the mark he knew Vaako called a reminder. A reminder that the spiraling beauty of the Threshold had given him a second chance at choosing this path instead of other. Riddick had corrected him for it had given them both a second chance.

But it wasn't until a week after that on Panarea that he found out how dangerous Vaako really could be. The dozen mercs had come out of nowhere. Afterwards they would discover that the single city and port on the planet had worked as this mercenary group's main base of operations. The entire city had a population of under a hundred people and some of them had not been on Panarea willingly. They had landed, followed Jack's path that led them to her boarding yet another ship to another planet when they had found themselves surrounded.

Fifteen minutes later Riddick had learned that while Vaako had excellent aim with that pulse gun he so loved, he was just as deadly with a knife or in hand to hand combat. Riddick had five corpses to Vaako's seven.

Riddick had wanted to stretch Vaako out right then and there. Hear Vaako shout his name as he buried himself deep within the other man. To stop the gnawing need that had started the moment he realized that Vaako was his.

Vaako had given him a look. "Not out here, not on their cameras."

For a moment Riddick knew he wouldn't care who saw them, Vaako was his, but then the less feral part of him saw the benefit of keeping that under wraps. Riddick would be the first one to admit that compared to most of the universe he was feral --letting his supposed animal-side influence his actions.

Vaako snorted. "Not feral, just Furyan."

That was another thing that had changed since their path had become one, they could sense one another --thoughts, feelings. Though Vaako was far better at it than Riddick. Deep inside him, Riddick recognized who Vaako was; what he was. He was the sane part of his soul; the one who tempered him but could be just as vicious. He was his partner, his lover, and in Furyan terms, his mate.

Riddick watched Vaako destroy the merc's computer system. Taking information and emptying accounts, dispersing some of the money to the people left on Panarea. Erasing the fact that they had even been here; at least from the cameras, but he doubted the survivors on this planet would talk to any type of sector or planetary security.

It took a little time, but they finally found Jack in the surveillance recordings. She had been lucky to get off the planet --the perfect timing of inbound and outbound flights. She would have been the perfect plaything, at her age, for the mercs that had been on Panarea. Riddick wanted to tear their bodies limb from limb.

"Looks like you might get that chance," Vaako had said, giving him a knowing look. "This crew still has a four person team out on a retrieval. Man by the name of Santana runs them."

Riddick growled. If he came across this Santana he wanted the man's head. "Let's go," he said. They could have their ship refueled and restocked in less than thirty minutes. The timestamp on the surveillance said they were a month behind Jack, but she'd joined the crew of a long distance haul and the Vengeance was faster. There was a chance they could catch-up with her; and if not, at least shave off several weeks of her lead time.

~~~***~~~

Vaako woke with a cry of pain that came from deep within. "We need to," he grabbed at his chest, at the handprint that glowed softly. The spiral mark on his hand seemed to blacken and burn. His head felt as if an explosion had gone off between his ears.

He barely felt it as Riddick wrapped his arms around him. Stopping him from getting up; stopping his panic. Riddick laid his hand over the handprint on Vaako’s chest and the pain turned into clarity for both of them.

The Corpse's words came to them: His fleet grows and not even three months from now will I be able to help --I won't care to either; I'll be gone.

“Transcendence has come to Aisa,” Vaako said through clenched teeth as pain still coursed through his body. “My world as I knew it is gone. Had I stayed...”

Riddick’s arm tightened around him. “You are mine,” Riddick all but growled, mere centimeters from his ear. “That is what never was; this is us now.”

Vaako calmed his breathing and slowly opened his right hand. There was no blackened or charred skin where the mark was. It looked like the birthmark it had become. He knew that if he looked at it closely it would seem to glow with a blue hue while speckles of color moved along the spirals. He bore the true mark of the Threshold.

“It can’t have you either,” Riddick said.

“She,” Vaako corrected, turning slightly in Riddick’s arms to better see him. “Whatever the Threshold truly is, it is female. It is life and death and rebirth.” He glided his left thumb over the mark. “Besides,” he continued, “I believe that she likes you. Likes how you do what no one expects. It is why we have both been...” Vaako stopped talking. They hadn’t been reborn. Allowed to choose different paths perhaps.

It didn’t matter. They needed to find Kyra before the comet army could be destroyed. The word Necromongers whispered across his mind. Followed by a thought that soon, the Elementals were going to discover a horribly wonderful truth. But even those thoughts didn’t matter.

Vaako turned in Riddick’s hold, moving around until he could straddle Riddick’s waist. He wanted Riddick. He wanted to put what his planet had just become out of his mind. “You are mine,” he whispered Riddick’s words back to him. “And I’m going to take my pleasure from you.”

~~~***~~~

The Sun Limited Transport cargo hauler they had been chasing for the last three weeks hung in space just ahead of them. It was slightly off course which out here meant they had been lucky to have found it. It was also still drifting on whatever course it had been knocked into. The engine exhausts were as dark as the rest of the ship since no outside running lights were lit. The ship’s emergency beacon was bleeping on their monitor but no one had answered their hail. Unfortunately they didn’t have a ship to ship sensor package like rescue ships so they couldn’t detect life signs, just the fact that the life support was slowly dying.

They made one circuit around the ship. There was a hole in the outside plating where engineering would be located. Without the running lights it was difficult to see if it was just surface damage or if the ship had been compromised and if so, how bad.

Riddick glanced out the window, his hands wrapping around the controls until his knuckles turned white. “On and off as fast as we can. It could be a trap.” If she was dead, his murder count would grow because he would hunt down the people who did this.

The Vengeance’s airlock light turned green indicating a positive seal with the other ship. He cycled the doors open but didn’t step through immediately. The hauler’s emergency lights flickered as they came to life but barely had the power to light the floor. Riddick pushed his goggles to the top of his head. His shined eyes telling him what he needed to know.

Two feet from the airlock lay the body of a man. The scorch mark on the man’s chest took him down but didn’t kill him; the bullet hole in the man’s head had.

“Not pirates,” Riddick said, crouching down next to the body and moving shifting the jacket around so the logo on the chest pocket was clear. “Wouldn’t have used guns that could breach the haul. Man worked for a private security firm.”

“Kidnapping, assassination, stolen cargo, some bounty hunters take side jobs. Worse than pirates,” Vaako commented as he moved further down the passage. “There’s another here, same jacket.”

“Kyra,” Riddick ground out. “Her plans are no good.”

“I think it’s more her choice of ships,” Vaako corrected him as they came to a passage intersection. One of the cross corridors had its breach doors sealed. Whether done on purpose or automatically because of a breach was unknown, but it was a direct path to engineering. “Flight deck,” Vaako indicated, turning down the opposite corridor.

Riddick tilted his head and inhaled, then pointed. Anyone else would have asked questions, but not Vaako. This man really did understand him, was really his. He felt more than saw Vaako draw the pulse gun that had already been primed on their ship.

If his senses weren’t as strong he would have missed the noise, the scent. They hastened their step just in time to see someone try to enter one of the work shafts that ran close to the floorboards. The person would have to be small to get through them successfully. Neither he nor Vaako would fit. He grabbed the foot and pulled. The body tried to struggle but was light enough that the person was easily pulled from the shaft.

It wasn’t Kyra but another young girl. Probably a handful of years older than Kyra and wearing a mechanic’s jumper.

He saw Vaako put his gun away and crouch down in front of the girl. “Didn’t mean to scare you,” Vaako started. “But no one answered our hails in reply to your E-beacon.” His mate was talking calmly and more truthfully than he himself would, but it seemed to be doing the trick. “We’re looking for his sister. She’s younger than you; boarded this ship on Panarea.”

“There were no solo female passengers,” the girl answered, biting her lip.

Riddick could sense she was hiding something. He crouched down next to Vaako instead of lurking above them. His position seemed to calm the girl a little more, but he still left Vaako to his questions. “What’s your name?”

“Eve Logan,” the girl answered. “Third year journeyman for ship’s engineering.”

Riddick knew enough about apprenticeships to know that he’d initially guessed Eve’s age a little younger than she was, but she was still probably barely out of her teens. There were a few more simple questions before Riddick said, “Eve, Kyra was disguised as a boy,” he admitted. “She would look more like my brother than sister. She was calling herself Jack.”

Vaako pulled out a small handheld comp and brought up the image of Kyra leaving the documents store. Head shaved, wearing clothes very similar to Riddick’s.

Eve tilted her head as if trying to figure out if she could trust Riddick or not. “I remember her,” she answered, holding up her own small tablet device. Eve had been cataloging the dead and missing. “Hair had grown out some, but still… boyish. I haven’t found her yet.”

The answers he and Vaako got just lead to more questions. Eve wasn’t sure who attacked them. She had never seen a ship, but she had heard names: Diaz and Falco. Riddick knew those names having read the files on Santana’s crew.

Six days ago a ship had fired on them and then boarded. The Chief Engineer had pushed Eve into the shafts with the first sounds of energy weapons. She had barely made it past the shaft lock before it had slammed shut due to the breach. She had stayed quiet as she moved through the ship in the one place no one thought to look. Eve had been the one to send out the E-beacon after the flight crew had been murdered, but then she’d barely been able to get out of the control center before someone had purged the air from that section.

The invaders left sometime between six and eight hours later because she remembered the shift change chime going off twice. When it was safe she had come out of hiding and repaired one of the panels in the secondary flight alcove enough to fire off the emergency thrusters to get the ship in line to drift closer to the main cargo lane hoping that someone would hear the signal. After that she started going through the manifest to identify people.

With his and Vaako’s help they were able to account for all but five passengers and a dozen cargo containers. Kyra was among the missing, because of course, where else would she be. “Somebody wanted something bad enough to try and disappear a whole cargo transport.”

“Or someone, and the cargo was the payment,” Vaako added.

“Or that.”

“The computer got enough information to record Santana’s ship’s ident and emissions,” Vaako looked at the flight computer. “So he’s sloppy at his job or thought no one would find this ship. We have enough to follow though.”

Riddick had a slight debate with himself and then another with Vaako. “Fine,” he said, and it wasn’t quite a growl. “Get the info, get her stuff, and remove all traces of us being here.”

“Pack,” Vaako ordered Eve. “We can drop you off at our next stop.”

~~~***~~~

Vaako knew he was being followed. He waited until he was in sight of the Vengeance before doing anything about it. He wasn’t going to risk Eve’s life to just to confront the people following him in an area that wasn’t to his liking. He’d control more ground closer to ship, especially with Eve safely inside.

They hadn’t planned on keeping Eve. It would have been safer for her to be elsewhere, but she sort of refused to leave even after Riddick had threatened to carry her off the ship. It had been a sight to see. This young woman, a half foot shorter than either of them, hands on hips, telling Riddick that their ship was hers now before spinning on her heel and going back to the engineering section. Vaako would admit their ship was undeniably running better. Eve had taken over the small quarters located near the engineering section of their ship and simply never left.

“When I say, run ahead,” he said. “Go in and do as we planned.”

“But...”

“No arguments. Now go.”

He was meters from the ship’s ramp, Eve already inside, when he asked without turning around, “What do you want Dahl?”

“You have a bounty on your head.”

Vaako rolled his eyes, trying to rein in the sarcastic retort that was on the tip of his tongue. “Well, no shit,” he answered, so much for no sarcasm. “Everyone who lives after having a run in with Riddick gets a bounty put on them.” He still hadn’t turned around to face her. “So I owe you fifty credits,” he continued. “Maybe a little more. The question is, how many of those with Riddick-sighting bounties continue to live once they are turned in.” He waited a moment before answering. “The answer is none,” he answered, finally turning around to face his friend. He gave a slight shake of his head as he heard several weapons charge, but he only stared ahead at Dahl. “They’re not subtle are they? Gave away their positions. You’re the long range expert so that leaves your team leader in your place?” He heard a sound from his left and knew it also came from one of Dahl’s crew. “I do know how the Lupus Planetary Guard work,” he commented. “They did spend five years trying to recruit me.” He walked closer to Dahl. “You’re out of position. Your team leader thought you could talk me in?”

Dahl shrugged, she hadn’t lifted her gun but Vaako knew it was already primed as to not give away her position or intent if it was needed. “Seemed like a good idea,” she answered with a slight shrug before holstering her weapon. “Where’s Riddick?”

Vaako smothered a laugh. “At this moment, I have no idea. Probably getting ready to destroy that comet army that’s being whispered about. You know, the one who destroyed Aisa.”

“That’s propaganda from the outer planets.” Dahl didn’t move or otherwise react, but then again Vaako hadn't expected her to.

Vaako laughed fully this time. “No, it’s not. I was really good at my job Dahl, remember. They took out Aisa but not the observation stations on our moons. The Necromongers, as they call themselves, are out to destroy all that lives, they just expected to do so without being caught. Maybe if I had been there instead of looking for a missing girl the footage would be, well, that’s getting ahead of myself.” Vaako gave Dahl a sad smile. “A planet dies from a mysterious disaster that looks like a reactor imploding and people mourn, look for survivors, steal what’s left, but that’s it. Now though, everyone will get to see it. People thought the universe was chaotic before...”

“What did you do, Vaako?” This time Dahl did step forward.

He shrugged. “Tell your boss he’s not good with your rifle. The angel is off, the scope is creating a marked glare that reads rifle scope," at least to him and probabaly anyone else who was looking for it, "as well as giving away his location,” he answered. “I logged into our old security system which gets backed up on here and downloaded the footage. Did you know this planet is a relay hotspot? You can archive and stream just about anything to anywhere from here as long as you know how to get in.”

All the screens, monitors and other visible devices chose that moment to send out the emergency signal. Five seconds later the first videos from Aisa started to play. It would take an hour for all the videos from the different recording locations to play through.

Dahl watched the monitor closest to her for a minute. “It’s true then. There is a rumor floating in the Guard but until we have proof we continue as if it’s not real.”

“People don’t want it to be real so they will bury it, but I’ve never lied to you Dahl. Aisa is gone and it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. Stay out of my way because I’m going to make everyone involved pay.” Vaako turned around and started walking towards his ship. “I was mourning a personal loss before they destroyed my home; now it’s worse.”

“Vaako,” Dahl called.

Vaako paused and turned slightly. “You can tell Colonel Johns that there are video interviews with the survivors of Hades. He should probably watch those. The Company and Strikeforce don’t want them seen, but you can watch in the Archive here. Libraries are such wonderful places. Always keeping copies of what others think no one else will care to see or read.” Vaako knew what Johns Senior would find. Reports that showed his son, William Johns, was a drug addict, used innocents as shields, and a video of a religious holy man and another of a young girl who survived a terrible crash thanks to Riddick; and who were not murdered or left to be bait by Johns.

“You were always efficient,” Dahl admitted. “But you’re going to owe me more than fifty credits.”

Vaako laughed again. “Of that I really have no doubt,” he said, smiling for the first time during this encounter. “Be careful Dahl, the Elementals are lying,” he warned, taking the final steps onto the ramp and into the ship. “Before you know it you’ll be a mercenary crew instead of part of the guard. Lupus is the next big system on their flight path. Then Aquila.”

No shots came. It didn’t mean they wouldn’t give chase, or try to at least. Vaako closed the ramp. “Let’s get off this planet.”

“You did lie to her.”

“I did not,” Vaako turned to Riddick and pulled the other man closer. “I honestly didn’t know if you were back on board or not and if you weren’t I was leaving your ass here for being late.”

Vaako saw Riddick shrug and leaned in to kiss him. “I did however, believe you were back here,” he said after pulling away from the other man and turning toward the cockpit. “That should draw them out,” he added.

The Elementals would speak out now. He was betting they would come forward with their prophecy --cloaked and shrouded in even more nonsense than before but still pointing to a fairy tale being, a Furyan.

“Eve, get us off this planet,” he ordered.

“Yep,” the young girl called back through from the cockpit.

~~~***~~~

Riddick’s anger was like a living breathing entity kept carefully in check. The body on the ground in front of him wasn’t Kyra’s; probably the only thing keeping him from taking the ship and going after Santana. He snorted at that thought. He knew Vaako had changed the passcode and that it would take him longer to break the code than it would take for Vaako to open their ships’ door. Plus he wasn't leaving his partner. And after saving Eve, he couldn't just leave her on this shithole of a planet either.

It was all just another nail in Santana’s coffin. Riddick looked one more time from the body to the datapad he held. The dead woman was Margo Luna, a holy woman traveling with her young son. Thankfully there was no child’s body but the woman’s body bore marks of rape and torture. He turned around and walked away. There wasn’t much that could disgust Riddick, he’d seen a lot, but this was one of the few things that he believed was firmly in the “never do” category.

There was another body, or part of one, also female. There wasn’t enough of the face but what Riddick had been able to see the woman matched the description of Clara Thomas. According to the datapad her husband’s body had been marked as found on the cargo hauler. That left Jack Richards, Tommy Luna, and a Quentin Marks as unaccounted for.

“As long as Kyra continues to be a boy, it looks like she might be safe,” Vaako said. “The boy could be sold. Marks is an Elemental." That was clear from the image on the passenger manifest. "And this,” Vaako handed Riddick a thin white bone that Riddick recognized as one of the needle sharp talons from the Hades’ raptors, “is for you. It came with one word etched into the stone over there,” Vaako indicated a cluster of tall stones behind him. “Riddick.”

It was moments like this that Riddick wondered if the corpse had never come calling would he have been searching for Kyra or would she be lost, trapped and waiting for a rescue that would never come.

“As you told me,” Vaako whispered from behind him, “that is what never was; this is us now. You will find her and Santana will regret his actions.”

Riddick grunted. “He's not going to live long enough to know what to regret the most.”

Vaako said nothing and Riddick appreciated that there was no argument, repercussions, or anything else regarding what Riddick had planned for Santana and his men. Riddick was going to protect what was his and the rest of the Universe could be damned.

He had looked around the arid desert of a planet that Santana had opted to get supplies from and thought it was as bad as M6-117. He wasn’t sure if this planet had a name --people did like to name things-- or if it just had a number designation. All they knew was this was Mercenary Station P7 and Santana had logged taking supplies only because access to inside the station and the supply shelves was restricted to registered mercenary crews and there was an automatic unit that kicked on when movement was detected. It scanned everyone on entry. Vaako had kept him outside and away from the scanner while he and Eve had gone inside.

Riddick followed them back towards their ship. “Anything?” he asked.

“Signal’s weakened,” Vaako answered. “But best guess has them going either to the shipyards around Origin or P474.”

“Origin,” Eve insisted. “They’ve gone to Origin. Their ship is having some type of mechanical issue in the port cells, at least by the few parts they took from this station. Parts won’t fix the issue; maybe patch or explode,” she continued with a grimace. “They’re going to need an overhaul and full replacements; the best and cheapest place for that is Origin.”

Riddick walked up the ramp and turned to take one more look out at the planet. He spotted a massive storm to the northeast and didn’t want to be on this planet when it made it to the merc station. “Let’s go to the shipyards,” he ordered.

~~~***~~~

Vaako had never been to Origin. As much as he liked ships and designs he had enjoyed learning about the computers on the inside more than how the ship was made. Origin looked like a massive spider web in space. Six docking rings connected by tracks for cranes, cartways for supplies, and pedestrian walkways all linked back to an orbiting platform that was the center hub. The inner docking ring seemed to be living quarters for workers and ship docking for regulars. Santana’s ship was docked in the fifth ring out in quadrant C, space seven.

Thanks to Eve they managed to dock in the same quadrant just one ring closer to the hub. The hub offered entertainment, food, and supplies all at a decent rate. This hopefully meant that Santana’s crew wasn’t on board their ship and that, if they were lucky, Kyra and Tommy Luna, were locked in some bay. They needed to check and they needed to not draw attention to themselves.

Riddick was known, especially among mercenary crews, and there were just too many of them wandering about on the hub. Eve could easily blend in with the other dock workers. Vaako, while not known, did now have that small bounty on his head and looked too much like military to blend in where they needed to go. Vaako hated sending Eve.

“I can do this,” she said, after Vaako had popped the electronic locks on several lockers in a supply alcove. Eve had found a pair of hub coveralls that fit, a supply belt, an ID chip that looked like it had fallen out of the slot from someone else’s coveralls. With her hair pulled back in tail and grease on her hands and a smudge on her face she looked the part.

Vaako followed her as far as he could and then waited. He was now glad he’d taken the set of comms from P7.

“Sheech,” came over the comms. “This place stinks. Have they never heard of a shower.” There was the distant sound of a chuckle coming over Eve’s comm which meant someone else was on the ship, voice too quiet to fully pick up. “No, probably not,” Eve answered a question that Vaako couldn’t hear. “Nah, they sent me to fix a roller mount for a storage access panel in bay two. How much you want to bet they didn’t actually label their bays. I know, right?”

There was silence over the line for a few minutes and it was making Vaako itchy. “Eve?” The silence stretched on for another minute.

“Okay, he’s gone,” Eve’s voice came over the calm and Vaako relaxed. “Guess he’ll be passing your hiding spot in a minute.”

Vaako knew a search for a person wouldn’t take long on Santana’s ship. The ship had no personal quarters. The crew slept in the flight chairs. There was a small onboard hygiene closet, a food processor unit, row of lockers, two small storage bays that might as well be closets, and two large ones. They were betting one was used for prisoners and the other probably housed hover bikes or a skiff used for ground transport.

“Opening the first door.” There was coughing and a slight gagging sound over the comm. “I don’t want to know what they’re storing in there but whatever it is has gone rotten. Opening the second one. More junk and I can’t tell if it smells better or worse,” Eve reported. “I think one of the boxes though was the part of the missing cargo from my old ship; at least by its labels. Moving down the hall.” There was a few seconds of silence. “You were right, hover bikes, two of them. Trying the last one now.”

There was cursing over the line and then a “got it” followed by more swearing.

“Vaako,” he heard Eve call calmly and it was the kind of calm that came right before panic which had him already moving in her direction. “I think you better come right now. I mean like right now.”

“Riddick, stay,” he ordered. “I can feel your intent from here. You will do us no good if all the alarms on this station go off. Do you trust me?” he asked, just as he entered Santana’s ship.

A growled response of yes came over the comm. “I will keep you posted, but Eve and I are going to switch off our comms for a few minutes.”

Vaako found Eve standing in an open doorway. He peered over her into the room. It wasn’t a pretty sight --two thin mattresses on the ground, chains along various parts of the walls, and a single trough filled with water, stains on the walls and floor. Curled into a corner closest to one of the mattresses, a chain connecting her left arm to the wall was Kyra. And she looked as feral as Riddick sometimes did and ready to pounce. Clothes ripped, dried blood spotted her body and clothes. What he could see of her skin was dotted with bruises in varying colors of age.

“She growled at me and almost ripped her arm off trying to come at me,” Eve said quietly, not turning to look at him.

A soon as Eve spoke Kyra growled again, pulled on the chain on her arm as if she was going to charge at Vaako. “Kyra,” he said, in the lightest, softest voice he could. She growled again. He stepped closer and this time she did charge at him, fingers ready to claw at him. He wanted to be gentle and easy, but he didn’t think that was going to work.

He sidestepped her charge and managed to get his arms around her. She bucked and squirmed, and nearly bit him. He readjusted his grip. “Riddick sent us,” he said, but she continued to fight.

“Eve,” he ordered. “Get something to cut through the chain. Something fast; at this point it doesn’t have to be quiet. We can’t risk staying much longer.” He knew either Riddick’s patience would give out or that either a real dock worker or a member of Santana’s crew could return at any minute.

While Eve worked on the chain with a torch she had found, Vaako tried to calm Eve down by talking softly to her. “Riddick came to visit and you had run away. Abu and Lajjun are worried.” He paused to watch Eve start on the chain with a torch and hoped that it would do. “They believe you thought they no longer wanted you because of Ziza, but I know you know better.”

“Almost,” Eve said. The chain, about six inches from Kyra’s wrist was bright and glistening and almost torched through.

“Flip your comms back on,” he told Eve even as he switched his hold around Kyra so he could remove his own and push it into Kyra’s ear.

“Tell him we have her, but she’s as feral as he can be sometimes, and that my comm is in her ear and he needs to talk her down or she’s going to rabbit or worse.”

Eve repeated everything and then paused. Whatever Riddick had asked Eve, she was only willing to answer some of it. There were more I don’t knows than anything else, but by Eve’s nod it got Riddick to talking.

At the sound of Riddick’s voice in her ear Kyra froze. Then the chain gave a hissing snap and broke in two. Kyra started fighting again. “Riddick,” he said loud enough that he knew his comm, even in Kyra’s ear would clearly pick it up.

Whatever Riddick said caused Kyra to stop her struggling again. “Take me to my brother,” Kyra’s voice trembled and sounded rough, abused from screaming and then non-use.

Eve gave him a thumbs up and he released his hold. Kyra stumbled away and nearly fell to the floor. “Yep, that’s not going to work. You can barely walk. Don’t bite me,” Vaako warned as he scooped Kyra into his arms. “Eve find something we can use to cover her.”

They needed to go as unnoticed for as long as they could. Vaako could hear her opening the storage doors again pushing boxes to the ground. Santana’s crew was going to notice but he could no longer worry about that. A minute later she came back with a bolt of cloth. “Can you put her down for a minute?” Eve asked ripping a wide piece of the cloth from the bolt. Then to Kyra she said, “I just… this will work. I need to get close to you, okay?”

Kyra didn’t nod, but she didn’t move either and both Eve and Vaako took that as a silent consent.

Vaako was amazed. In a matter of minutes. Eve had Kyra dressed in some type of skirt that was wrapped and tied at the waist. There was thin piece of cloth wrapped around Kyra’s head to hide the short hair. A third piece was used to cover Kyra’s chest that went from shoulder to opposite hip and covered much of the blood and bruising.

Eve took off the coveralls and boots and quickly fashioned similar items for herself, using the last bit of cloth for a bag she used to carry her boots and the coveralls. The last thing she did was wrap one of Kyra’s ankles as if it had been injured.

Vaako nodded. Two similar dressed girls would hopefully draw less attention than how they looked a minute ago. He scooped Kyra up again and left Santana’s ship.

~~~***~~~

Riddick stood just inside the docking bridge between the hub and the Vengeance waiting to unlock the airlock on the hub’s side. He had told Kyra that he trusted Vaako with his life and that she could too. Then he had stopped talking; there’s was nothing else to say until she was on board. He knew Eve hadn’t answered all his questions. He wasn’t worried as he’d asked questions that would be hard to confirm if Kyra wasn’t talking.

He was giving Vaako another minute and then he was going out after them. He’d just hit the button to open the door when he saw them round the corner. He opened the airlock for the Vengeance and stepped into the ship as Eve entered the hub’s door and stepped to the side allowing Vaako to pass. His lover was barely a foot into the ship before Kyra was out of his arms and running to him.

“Riddick,” she said, wrapping her arms around him and clearly losing the battle to not cry. “I knew you would come.”

Riddick was not good with his own emotions, let alone emotional people. Vaako’s ability to read what he wasn’t going to say or show was one of the reasons he knew the man was his mate. Kyra didn’t understand, she was still young, still needed the words. Needed him to be her family, and part of Riddick knew he needed that too.

“It’s okay,” he said, wrapping his arms around her in a hug, offering her what comfort he could. He picked her up and took her into one of the empty passenger rooms. “I will always come for you, little sister,” he said, sitting her gently on the bed. “Eve is going to help you and you need to answer her questions. I’ll be right outside.”

“Who is she?”

Riddick didn’t need to look over his shoulder to know that Eve was standing there with supplies and clothes. “She runs my ship. I trust her.”

Kyra nodded and wiped her face and nose on her arm. “Okay.”

Riddick stepped outside of the room to find Vaako standing a few feet past the still open door. “You were good with her,” Vaako quietly told him. “She will be okay and you should be able to hear from here.”

He said nothing, just leaned against the wall listening as Eve got Kyra undressed and into the tiny refreshing stall. He clinched his fists and only relaxed as Vaako moved into his personal space; something that always seemed to calm him when it was Vaako. He could hear the tears in her voice as Kyra spoke.

Vaako had been right about how she got off the planet. She thought her plan had been going well, even though she wasn’t sure where to start looking for him. That was until she had boarded that last ship, the Sun Limited Transport. Santana’s crew was awful. Took a man who was being transported by the Marshal’s Service; killed everyone else and took certain boxes of cargo. The man had been dropped off on another planet with all but two of the boxes.

He continued to listen as the blood and filth was washed away. Cuts were cleaned and bandaged where necessary. And most importantly, neither Santana or any of his crew had touched her.

“He said,” Kyra spoke just above a whisper. “Said I was too valuable. Virgins sell for more.”

“I’m going to get you something to eat, okay?” he heard Eve ask. There was no reply but Eve came out of the room. Glanced his way and then continued onto the galley.

Riddick pushed away from the wall and entered the room. Kyra’s hair was a short mess of curls and he didn’t think she would be able to pass as a boy again. Her eyes were rimmed red, her skin pale and for a moment Riddick thought he saw Kyra as he once had seen Vaako, as a corpse. He blinked away the image and moved to sit next to her on the bed. Vaako stepped into the room but stayed by the door as to not crowd her. “Your plans are never good,” Riddick said softly. “Your choice of ships too.”

She smiled slightly and leaned into him. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “As soon as I kill Santana,” he said. “We’re leaving this station. But you are staying on this ship with Eve. Vaako and I will handle Santana and his crew.”

Eve returned with a small bowl of soup and a piece of bread. “On ship, doors locked.”

He had expected protesting of some sort but received none. It worried him a little but he let her eat some of the soup before standing up.

“Wait,” she grabbed his hand. “Can you find Tommy?” she asked. "I promised I would take him to Helion. To Lajjun and Abu. Santana,” her voice broke, “killed his mom. She’s a, was, like Abu. He’s just a little boy. Santana thinks Tommy’s some sort of good luck charm.”

Riddick would find the boy so Kyra could keep her promise.

~~~***~~~

During the hunt of Santana and his men Vaako learned that if Riddick had wanted, he could have become a very successful assassin. As big and noticeable as he was, Riddick could be silent, quickly precise, and clean with a kill. He'd already known that Riddick would protect what was his and that he didn’t believe law enforcement types weren’t on the take; his past had been proof of that.

There had been no hesitation with the first of Santana’s men to be found. Rubio and Nunez had died where they were standing. No evidence left behind --more evidence that the Rangers had probably been training Riddick for more, and why they would want him taken out for his supposed betrayal.

He’d had to stop Riddick from making the same mistake with Falco. Riddick had the man pinned to the wall, one had on the knife buried in Falco’s side and the other hand gripped around Falco’s neck ready to pop it off.

“I hate to interrupt,” he said, fingers wrapping around the wrist holding the knife, “but I need to talk to him first.” Riddick turned to look and growled. “Yes, yes, I get that and you can finish him off I promise, but answers first. I do have my own revenge to get too.”

Riddick let go and Falco dropped to the floor. “I’m going to,” Falco started.

“Kills us?” Vaako asked, squatting down to eye level with the merc. “Scream for help? You’re in a whore house and the walls are soundproof and the girl that was coming has been paid to be elsewhere.” And unlike the girl, Vaako knew that Falco didn’t have a panic button that would bring help. “No, you’re going to answer my question. Then he,” Vaako pointed over his shoulder to Riddick, “might have a follow-up or two but it’s more likely that he’s just going to kill you. The question is, will it be quick or long and drawn out. I’ll give you a second.”

Vaako glanced up at Riddick. “How about you root through his jacket pockets and that small bag he carried in with him.”

Riddick grunted but turned on his heel and stalked away. Vaako figured he had two minutes, no more, to get his answers before Riddick would be back, glaring over his shoulder.

“Where’s the Elemental?” Vaako asked, taking a different approach that would hopefully throw off Falco enough to forget Riddick.

“The what?” It had worked. Falco blinked and shifted his attention to Vaako.

“Man you took off the Sun Limited Transport? Along with three females, a little boy, and what, a dozen boxes? Quentin Marks.” Vaako poked the man with two fingers near the knife that was still in the man’s side. Falco let out a muffled scream. “Where?” Vaako asked again. “It’s not that hard. I’ll even let you go if you tell me what I want. Sometimes hired help just goes about things wrong,” Vaako tossed out, glancing Riddick’s way before focusing back on Falco. Falco seemed to relax some. “Where did you drop… what was his name again?”

“Earthern,” Falco answered automatically. “Miles Earthern. Marks was just a fake ident.”

“Yes,” Vaako agreed. So the Elemental had changed names. “Earthern. Where did you drop him off? There might even be some credits in it for you that you won’t have to split with your boss.” Vaako reached into his pocket and pulled out two red chits, each worth about five hundred credits.

“Somewhere in the Neikea System,” Falco answered. “Though I was too busy, you know, in the back, to know what planet.”

Vaako knew what that meant; disgusted, he twisted the blade in Falco’s side until the man screamed. “Don’t get side tracked,” he said. “What was in the boxes?”

“Never opened them.”

Vaako had figured as much but greed and stupidity seemed to be a theme in Santana’s crew and it seemed best to be sure. “Okay,” he said, standing. “I’m done. Thank you for the answers.” Then smirked. “I do hope you enjoy the rest of your day.”

Falco pulled the knife from his side and struggled to his feet. He didn’t get much further than that as Riddick was back, fingers once again digging into Falco’s throat. “I thought,” Falco gasped.

“That I was going to let you go,” Vaako shrugged. “I did. Never said anything about Riddick there though.”

Falco’s eyes grew huge at the name before quickly becoming devoid of life. Obviously, Riddick had chosen quick over slow.

“Never heard of the Neikea System,” Riddick said, letting go of Falco’s body.

Vaako snorted. He doubted many had and finding the exact coordinates were going to be a bitch. He couldn’t visit the Archives, there was only a slim probability that they had survived when Aisa has been destroyed. It meant they would just have to make another visit to Santana’s ship, maybe the man really was an idiot and hadn’t wiped his nav system. “Once we find the boy and Santana is handled, I think I know what’s coming next.”

In the Archives the Neikea System was only mentioned a few times, in very old, very dusty books. Vaako remembered that only hints of its location had been described and that there was only one habitable planet, Lethe, which if the old stories were to be believed was the world the Elementals had settled on when they left Earth before the Great Exodus.

~~~***~~~

Riddick was not surprised that Santana didn’t keep track of his ship or his men; it was just another thing that made him a bad team leader. Though, his whole team seemed to be made up of people with the same flaws. It was how he and Vaako had so easily been able to systematically remove them from play after copying information from the nav system of Santana’s ship.

“He’s the reason marshals and legit bounty hunters get a bad rep and people who truly need the help won’t go to them.” Vaako had made the comment more to himself than anyone else but Riddick, in a fashion, agreed. It hadn’t stopped them from finishing what they had started and it didn’t stop him from despising mercs.

Diaz had been easy to find, but had put up more of a fight. That part Riddick would admit he had thoroughly enjoyed. It had been a few weeks since he’d truly gotten to stretch and use his skills. It had been fairly simple to trick Diaz into following them to a large loading bay on the other side of the station.

There hadn’t been any questions, any demands, just a pure knockdown, drag out fight with the only spectator being Vaako. Vaako had just waved him toward Diaz with a, “I was just going to shoot him, but I can feel your need to let loose.”

Riddick knew he couldn’t hide anything from Vaako; had known that as the bond between them grew there would be no secrets. He just didn’t tap into it like Vaako did. It was easy for his mate to accept and use. Riddick hated mystical shit even if it had brought the two of them together. He felt something like a laugh in the back of his mind and knew it was Vaako; knew that if he turned he would see a smirk on Vaako’s face.

Instead he punched Diaz in the face. He hadn’t had an opponent like Diaz in a long time. The man was obviously Santana’s muscle man. The enforcer for the crew. In a way he was built much like Riddick.

Dodges, blows, kicks. The two circled each other until one got an upper hand and someone went flying into a stack of crates. The cycle would repeat.

Diaz bounced back to his feet after Riddick had sent him sprawling backwards into a row of barrels. Riddick could see the fight was finally beginning to wear on the other man. “I ain’t telling you whatever you’re after,” Diaz informed him, wiping blood from his mouth.

“Don’t want anything,” Riddick said, intercepting a punch and elbowing Diaz in the face. “This is personal.”

“What?” Diaz asked, mockingly before taking a run at Riddick. “I screw your sister or something.”

Riddick used Diaz’s momentum to swing the man into a steel support structure and heard the distinct sound of a bone or two snapping. He spared a second to see where Vaako was and spotted his partner sitting on top of a metal cargo container going through the lockbox Diaz had been carrying.

Diaz struggled to his feet. “Take that as a yes, bet she was a good…” Diaz couldn’t finish the rest of the sentence, not after the punch Riddick threw. The popping sound was either the nose or the jaw; maybe both.

“He had to know that was coming,” Vaako said, standing up to peer down at both fighters. “Nothing useful on Satanta’s location but I know where the boy might be.”

But Diaz wasn’t ready to call it quits. He threw another punch which Riddick blocked, spun, and shoved Diaz to the side. Diaz’s arms pinwheeled for a moment as the barrel that had stopped his moment rolled out from under him and down a twenty foot drop of an open loading well. Diaz couldn’t regain his balance and tumbled after the barrel.

Riddick walked over to the hole and looked down. He felt Vaako come up beside him. “Well,” Vaako started, looking down into the hole. “Nah, I got nothing. Let’s go.”

The barrel had smashed open on impact with the lower loading well door, the liquid within spreading across the surface where Diaz had landed seconds after the barrel. The liquid, a quick sealant used to create airtight seals on the outside of space vessels pooled around the body and quickly hardened. If he had survived the fall, he didn’t survive the sealant.

Riddick pulled Vaako to him and kissed him. “One to go.”

~~~***~~~

The small lockbox Diaz had been carrying had held ten thousand in credit chips, two data cards, and a copy of a merchandise voucher for a pawnshop on the hub agreeing to purchase a statue, newly made, undamaged, female form. It was code for what would have been the purchase of Kyra.

The shop owner, when faced with Riddick, and the fact that his three thugs were dead on the ground had given up the locations of Santana’s entire crew and the berth number for Santana’s ship --most of which they had already known. But he had provided them with the knowledge that the merc-slash-smuggler was about to go on another high value run for an Elemental if he or Riddick was looking to acquire something special.

Vaako had shot the man in the knee. A year ago that wouldn’t have even crossed his mind as something he would do. Right at that instant it seemed perfectly reasonable. So did putting his gun under the man’s neck. “Where is the boy?” he asked.

“Don't… don’t know?” the man stuttered.

“I don’t believe you,” Vaako replied, pushing the muzzle into skin a little harder than necessary. “Try again.”

“B...rown, te...n years maybe?” The man stuttered out the first part of the answer. “Santana kept him after getting a good price on the girl he’s delivering and for the other merch. Said the boy was his good luck charm.”

Vaako lowered the gun and took several steps away before turning and firing. The man’s body crumbled to the ground. If he left the man alive he would have sounded an alarm, but Vaako was still trying to decide if, to him, that had been murder or simply getting rid of the trash. He didn’t say anything to Riddick as he walked into the back area of the store and unlocked the door where the other merchandise was being stored. “Get out,” he told the frightened children. “Take whatever you need from the store and run. Run towards the center hub; it’s safer there.”

He didn’t wait to see if they followed his orders before turning and making his own way out of the store; Riddick right behind him. They had barely made it to the next level before Riddick pulled him into a half lit alcove. “Out here,” Riddick said, pulling off the darkened glasses he’d been wearing. “That was justice so whatever you’re thinking, stop. Give your friend an extra hundred credits and call it done.”

Vaako breathed in and out and let Riddick claim his mouth which had a way of calming his thoughts. If they didn’t have a mission he would have been willing to do a lot in the darkened alcove, as it was it would be best if they stopped.

They were just about to step out when they heard the sound of pounding feet headed in their direction and backed further into the shadows offered by the alcove. Four station guards ran past, none of them looking into the alcove. They listened for a moment and heard nothing which was about the point they both noticed that they were being watched by someone much shorter.

A brown-haired boy stood watching them. “Are you a Furyan?” the little boy asked, clutching to his chest a small book and a piece of fabric Vaako knew would match the clothing from one of the bodies found at Mercenary Station P7.

It was Riddick who reacted first, however, squatting down to answer the young boy. “I am,” Riddick answered. “And I bet you are Tommy Luna.”

Tommy nodded his head. “The bad man will be looking for me and I can’t find Kyra.” The boy looked around the corridor and sniffled. “They all look the same.”

Vaako could see a few scrapes and bruises on Tommy’s knees and legs, one of which was still bleeding. The boy had probably tripped running down one of the stairwells and right into them. Sometimes the Universe still surprised the shit out of him. “Riddick,” he said softly.

The boy perked up slightly. “Like Kyra’s brother?”

“Just like,” Riddick answered.

The boy looked down the corridor again as if sensing something and froze.

“Get back here, boy!”

Vaako looked down the corridor to see Santana standing at the “T” junction. Riddick stood and Vaako could see the moment when it registered who was facing him flick across the merc’s face. Santana reached for his gun and fired. Vaako grabbed Tommy and rolled out of the way.

The boy let out a cry of surprise but otherwise tried to make himself as small as possible. Vaako reached for his gun and attempted to return fire but Riddick was already running towards Santana and blocking the merc from his sight.

Santana must have realized he was at a greater disadvantage alone and slammed his fist through the glass of one of the emergency call boxes setting off the alarms. Vaako rolled to his feet with Tommy in his arms to see Riddick about to give chase.

“Riddick!” He called and then called again; putting everything he had into the second. “Riddick!”

Riddick turned to look at him. The silver in his eyes almost glowing a shade of blue.

~~~***~~~

Riddick wanted to give chase. Needed to end Santana’s existence, but Vaako wasn’t following him. He was standing there with the boy.

“We’ll get him. I promise,” Vaako told him, letting Tommy down to stand at his side. “Too many cameras and those guards could be back here quickly. We need to be off the station before they realize who you are or Kyra and Tommy will never be safe.”

Vaako had promised him they would find Kyra and they had. He glanced back the way Santana had rabbited off to like a coward, and that pissed him off. Riddick had to make a decision, go it alone or go it with Vaako. He wanted to see Santana dead but he didn’t want to leave his mate.

The burn in his chest subsided some at that thought and he started moving towards Vaako. When he was within arm’s reach he pulled Vaako to him and claimed his mouth. “Mine,” he said, before scooping up Tommy and setting a brisk pace that had them going down a flight of stairs that would take them to one of the walkways that led out to the ship rings.

He didn’t speak again until they were unhooked and travelling away from Origin. “You promise?” he asked, grabbing Vaako’s wrist. The others on board their ship weren’t paying the two of them any mind --Eve up on the flight deck and Kyra and Tommy in Kyra’s room.

Vaako looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes. I am always with you.”

Riddick believed him.

“We should return to Helion Prime but,” Vaako started, but clearly changed his mind.

Riddick knew that would be best. But also knew, just as Vaako seemed to that they would lose their lead on Santana and this Elemental shipment.

“No,” Riddick responded, picking up Vaako’s hand to see the Threshold’s mark. “I think they are safer with us.”

Vaako put his hand on Riddick’s chest and for a moment Riddick could see the Threshold in his mind, spinning, looming, violent, beautiful. It had given him Vaako and it would give him answers.

“We go to Lethe,” he said.

~end~

[END: You're Aware in All the Silence: Eleventh Hour Reprieve]