Fandom: Pitch Black (movie)
The glare of the sun in his eyes woke Johns up. He groaned and rolled over; the sun was still in his eyes. Except now it was a different color.
He blinked and sat up, which turned out to be a mistake, since straight away it felt as if his brains were trying to hammer their way out of his skull. Pressing the heels of his palms into his eyesockets helped, although it had the side effect of creating blooms of violent color - blue, red and yellow - behind his eyelids.
When he opened his eyes, what he saw barely changed at all.
He was lying on his back, staring up into a sky that pulsed blue, red and yellow. One sun in each variety.
Where the hell was he?
He sat up, and the view switched abruptly from a stark, unforgiving sky to an equally stark and unforgiving desert landscape. There was nothing in sight to give any clue as to how he'd come to his current position. As far as Johns could tell, it was as if he'd fallen out of the sky.
A noise behind him - a groaning wail - made him turn around awkwardly, half-drunk with concussion. The hulking wreck of a burnt-out passenger transport loomed above him, its metal structure shrieking as the fire within it died and its protesting beams and shell contracted after the heat's abuse.
Johns worked his tongue over dry, gritty teeth and tried to swallow, without much success. Dimly, he recalled that dehydration and disorientation were the main side effects of coming out of cryosleep too quickly.
Crash landing obviously didn't help much either.
The ship had crashed. Fuck.
He staggered on to his feet and swayed a little before finding his balance. The desert was a vast expanse around him, a strange place made stranger by the suns' alien hues. Ahead, the burning wreck of the passenger transport ship loomed, a dying funeral pyre.
A track in the sand led indisputably from the place where Johns had woken up all the way back to a jagged rip in the ship's hull. Now he remembered flashes - falling from the cryotube when the emergency protocols kicked in, struggling to keep upright as the ship pitched and rolled, then grabbing frantically for a handhold when the interior wall disappeared in front of him, along with the passengers who'd been in the other tubes -
The other tubes.
Had Riddick survived the crash? It seemed unlikely. Then again, the more Johns saw of the smashed transport vessel, the more he appreciated just how unlikely his own survival had been.
He couldn't risk it.
He took a couple of steps toward the wreck, then doubled over, coughing up ash. The part of his brain that remained detached from the situation - and there was always a part of Johns' brain that remained detached from every situation - recognized that he was pretty damn lucky to be walking away from a spaceship crash with nothing worse than some bruises and a slight concussion. The rest of him disagreed, but was too busy spitting grainy saliva into the dust at his feet to put up much of an argument.
Finding a way into the wreck was difficult; although only a few parts of the ship were still burning, the interior was still dense with trapped smoke and fumes. It was only by chance that Johns found a breathing unit that had fallen out of its storage locker when the ship went down. He sucked at the tube gratefully, then started coughing again when the oxygen-rich mixture flooded his lungs. It wasn't just the smoke making him breathless - the planet's air was much thinner than Earth-standard, although fortunately still breathable. That explained why the fires in the wreck were mostly out, too.
With the breather now clipped securely to his belt, he moved on to the flight-deck; the ship had come down hard on her nose, driving the front end of the vessel into the ground as she plowed to a halt. The cockpit windows had shattered, and the pilot's body was an ugly sight, flesh scoured away by the torrent of glass and debris that had blasted through the gap at several hundred miles an hour. The body's right arm was raised in what Johns first took to be a gesture of defiance, until he saw its hand, still wrapped around the manual decoupling control. The pilot must have decided to dump the ship's back sections, in the hope that losing the mass would enable him to lift the ship's nose and break the dive. A good idea, except that it hadn't worked - the heat had probably already fused the sections together by the time the pilot had quit wrestling with his conscience and decided to kill the passengers to save himself.
Johns looked at the pilot's hand, etched down to the bone and fused permanently by death to the decoupling lever. He wondered why people made simple decisions so hard. If it had been up to him, the passengers would have been spaced before the ship touched the upper atmosphere.
He left the cockpit and the stench of cooked human flesh and picked his way through the wreckage to the back section of the ship and the cryo compartment. The destruction was so extensive and so complete that he started to relax. His own survival was looking more and more like a freakish accident, the result of a sequence of events so improbable and bizarre he'd still be telling the story in seedy bars twenty years hence.
Assuming he managed to get off this godforsaken hellhole, of course.
Never mind that for now. It wasn't his first priority. Riddick was.
Riddick always was.
The door leading into the cryotube chamber had buckled and fallen off in the heat. The tableau inside was an echo of the cockpit, multiplied by forty. Bodies, scorched and mostly unrecognizable, lay piled on top of each other; most of the passengers, it appeared, had fallen from their tubes when the emergency routines woke them up, and died before they'd even managed to stand up. Johns stepped over the corpses without paying them much attention - he was certain already none of them was Riddick. The early release protocols on his tube had been disabled before the ship left port. The captain hadn't liked that - it was against regs, even for prisoners - but Johns had been persuasive. Extremely persuasive. Passenger transport captains weren't nearly as well paid as most people supposed.
By the time they'd left dock, Riddick had been bound and hooded and locked into cryotube 23. Johns had seen to it himself. His prisoner, restrained and helpless, pulling against his chains, arms and chest tight with effort. He'd felt a current of satisfaction and - something else.
Cryotube 23 was empty, its toughened glass front panel shattered. From the inside.
Johns stared at the cryotube, as if staring could summon Riddick back to it. He looked down at the bodies again - all the bodies - and only then realized his mistake.
The rest of the passengers had died because the emergency protocols had woken them from cryosleep and ejected them from the tubes. When the ship crashed, Riddick had been cocooned safely in his tube, perfectly situated to survive the impact. All he'd had to do afterward was escape from his restraints; for Riddick, child's play. It must have seemed that escape was being handed to him, gift wrapped.
Johns wasn't the only person who had a bizarre and improbable series of events to thank for his survival.
The fact that right now the only other living person on the planet was very probably Richard B. Riddick - murderer, escaped convict, all-round good-time psychopath - should have unnerved Johns; in fact, he was humming to himself as he left the ruined cryo room. The truth was, hunting Riddick down had taken so long and his eventual capture had given Johns such an intense feeling of satisfaction that he would have been disappointed if something as banal as an accident had robbed him of the chance to complete the claim. Riddick was going back to be executed, and Johns wanted to be there when he was, so he could see the look on Riddick's face when Riddick knew, finally, that he had lost and Johns had won. There was also the small issue of money: Riddick was the only passenger who could make Johns a substantially wealthy man. And the cash on offer for capturing Riddick was conditional on him being delivered alive.
Johns had a number of reasons to be glad Riddick had survived. All of them driven by pragmatism and self-interest.
The design of the passenger transport bore some resemblance to a giant centipede, with a number of independent sections coupled together, giving it a segmented appearance. The passengers' section, where the cryotubes were located, was closest to the ship's flight deck; it was this last, vital link which the pilot had tried and failed to break. But the emergency decoupling had worked for the sections further aft, so that where there had recently been a bulkhead at the rear of the passengers' section, there was now a cavernous, yawning gap. Standing in it, Johns could look straight down the long furrow the ship had made in the desert floor. A yellow brick road, but with no Emerald City at its end.
Luckily, what Johns was interested in was much closer.
He could see the black shell of another jettisoned section of the ship less than a mile away, lying on the blue-sun side of the crash trail. The hull markings had been destroyed by the entry into the atmosphere, but since it was closest to the final resting place of the front section, Johns reckoned there was a good chance he was looking at the last section to have been ditched before the crash, the one right behind the passenger segment. The one where the cargo had been stored.
He set out for the other section, making a slow pace through the blistering heat. He was thirsty, and when the landscape around him blurred and doubled, he couldn't tell if the distortion was being caused by the heat haze or his concussion. Passenger transports weren't required to carry emergency rations; most didn't, and Johns knew his phenomenal good luck in surviving the crash unscathed would most likely not stretch to discovering a cache of food and water in amongst the cargo. It might be possible to drain off drinkable water from the ship's cooling system, assuming at least some portion of it was still intact. But, in spite of his thirst and the knowledge that he wouldn't survive long without liquid, finding water wasn't his most immediate priority.
The interior of the cargo section was in disarray, with most of the carefully stowed crates and cartons heaped where they had fallen. Some were cracked, but few had actually broken open, and it took Johns some time - and a lot of grunting, gasping effort - to find the crate stenciled with his ID. Even when he did, it took another burst of lifting and pushing to free it from beneath the pile of debris jamming it against the wall.
The effort was worth it when the lid finally popped off. His hands relaxed around the gun, fingers sliding into the handle's comfortable grooves.
He pocketed as much of his supply of ammo as he could carry, and allowed himself a moment's rest, slumped against the cargo section's internal wall, gun cradled across his chest. Let Riddick try to get the jump on him now.
Then he wondered - why hadn't Riddick gotten here first?
It didn't make sense. Johns had no way of telling how long he'd been unconscious after the crash, but the fact that Riddick had been gone by the time he'd come round and checked the cryotubes implied that the other man had woken up before him. Riddick had known Johns' gun was stowed along with the cargo for the journey. Why hadn't he come to claim the weapon immediately?
It was the kind of puzzle which Johns usually relished: a chance to think himself inside Riddick's head, to understand his adversary. In the more civilized parts of the galaxy, bounty hunters were viewed as being only one step up from the criminals and escapees they pursued, and Johns could understand that. To trap a man you had to think like him; to think like him you had to become him. The line between hunter and hunted was a blurred one, and Johns had never had a problem with that. Everyone was the same, under the surface. The question was not whether you were on the right side, but the winning one.
Right now, though, he didn't have the energy or the patience for puzzles and conjecture. His head was thick and his tongue felt as if it were swelling inside his mouth. He didn't want to think. Inside his head was becoming an increasingly uncomfortable place to be.
In the bottom of his crate, a small red box sat, squat and inviting.
Johns regarded it for a long time. Then he reached into the crate and lifted out the little red box. It felt cool and smooth in his hands, as welcome as a glass of water.
He flipped open the lid and took out a phial and a syringe. The movements were so familiar they had almost become automatic. With practiced hands, he drew the contents of one phial up into the syringe's barrel and, keeping the gun balanced across his knees, tipped his head back and slid the needle's point into the corner of his eye. A tiny squeeze, as gentle as a lover's caress, and he sighed as the feeling flowed like cool water from the base of his neck through his limbs and down to the soles of his feet.
He breathed out in a long sigh, feeling his muscles relax, the tension knotted into them melting and running out of him. His head lolled, and the gun, his grip on it loosened, slipped down on to the floor beside him.
The hole in the side of the cargo section where he'd come in caught Johns's attention, and he stared at it, rapt. The shaft of light which slanted through the gap was a mixture of the light of the three suns and, as he looked at it, it seemed to change color moment by moment, so that it was blue and yellow and red by turn. At times it seemed to him that he could actually see the particles comprising each colored beam; his eye tracked their movements and he realized, with a certain pride, he was looking at the speed of light.
The sunlight (suns-light? he wondered, and giggled) fell across his body, creating a distorted shadow of his body on the cargo section's floor. The shadow was larger than him, but more powerful, a nebulous presence that attached itself to him and would not let go. It was, of course, Riddick - distinct yet lacking detail, close at hand yet evasive.
Johns was hardly surprised at all when the shape on the floor rose up and became a shadow-Riddick, his outline glowing in soft shades of red and blue. The shadow-Riddick moved on top of Johns, his thick, hard body pressed hotly against Johns' chest and thighs. His face was rough with stubble and, when Johns reached out with his tongue and gave the shadow-Riddick's neck a tiny, experimental lick, he tasted blood. Johns didn't feel surprised by that; after all, Riddick was a murderer. What else would he taste of?
The shadow-Riddick placed one large hand under and around Johns' throat and jaw, pressing down on his windpipe, making it hard for him to breathe. He should have felt terrified, but instead, as the edges of his vision began to close in and narrow, he felt aroused instead. A strange, excited euphoria gripped him, and he arched his back, straining to rub his crotch against Riddick, against any part of Riddick. He was getting hard now, and he ached for contact.
Riddick laughed, a low rumble that Johns felt as well as heard. He pushed Johns back against the wall, denying him the touch he craved. Then he leaned in low and pressed his mouth against Johns'. Riddick's mouth was like Riddick - hard, forceful. It was a mouth that took what it wanted without finesse or tenderness. With his mouth locked on Johns, Johns felt claimed by Riddick, owned by him. Dimly, he knew that wasn't how it was supposed to be: wasn't he the one with a claim on Riddick? Maybe he'd misunderstood all along - maybe this was the way it really worked. His ownership of Riddick was matched by Riddick's ownership of him.
Then Riddick's tongue was in his mouth, mining him, and all coherent thoughts vanished from Johns'. He arched again, and this time he was rewarded by the touch he needed, Riddick's hardness meeting his. Johns reached down, fumbling, and grabbed Riddick with no subtlety, just the raw, clutching power of need. Riddick's lips trembled with a deep-seated groan that only made Johns need to touch him more. He found a belt, tugged and pulled and burrowed until - God, yes - he had his prize, thick and hot in his palm, so hot it burned him. Riddick pushed against him, pulsed and groaned again, and Johns felt a surge of triumph as he stroked him, relentlessly, again and again and again, not allowing him a single moment of respite or escape -
Johns heard his own voice shout out, and felt the fast-fading warmth of come on his hand. Riddick had merged back into the shadows, and Johns was alone in the cargo bay, his belt unbuckled and his mouth dry.
When Johns woke up, his first, instinctive thought was that he couldn't have slept too long, because it was still light outside. Then he remembered that three suns must mean no darkness at all, ever. The realization brought with it a sudden and uncomfortable recollection of his predicament. He was marooned on a desert planet; since regaining consciousness after the crash, he hadn't managed to locate Riddick, water, or a way off this hunk of shriveled-up rock. The sum total of his achievements had been to get high.
He picked up the little red box in disgust and threw it to one side - although not so hard that he risked breaking any of the phials inside. Then he retrieved his gun and struggled, still a shade groggily, to his feet. The sight of his own shadow, its feet locked to his, made him remember his dream of Riddick. What if Riddick had really come back while he'd been drugged up? He meant to use the idea to berate himself, but somehow it didn't have the desired effect. He found himself wishing the shadow-Riddick had been real.
Then he heard it - the noise which must have woken him up.
For a second, he thought the long drawn-out screech was the sound of the passenger transport's front section collapsing on itself as its weakened superstructure gave way completely. But when he stepped outside the cargo section, blinking in the harsh, triply-amplified sunlight, Johns realized the noise wasn't coming from any part of the wreck. In fact, it seemed to be coming from somewhere out in the desert.
He hefted his gun, a little uncomfortably.
Using his free hand to shade his eyes, he surveyed the arid landscape that lay on the blue-sun side of the wreck. The horizon shimmered in a haze of heat rising off the baked earth; there was nothing at all in sight except some small hillocks that made him think of termite mounds and, further distant, the wavering silhouettes of skeletal desert trees.
The noise rang out again, an unnerving shriek that was not quite like any sound he'd heard before. It might, Johns supposed, be the result of some kind of underground seismic activity peculiar to this world.
Well, whatever it was, he was pretty sure it was unlikely to be as dangerous as Riddick.
He retrieved the rest of his gear from the cargo section and then began his search at the main crash site, working outward in a grid pattern, ignoring nothing. He found Riddick's restraints, abandoned with apparent carelessness about 500 meters from the main wreck. Johns gave them a cursory inspection, then abandoned them again - something this obvious had to be a deliberate ruse on Riddick's part. The true reward for his diligent searching were a set of tracks imprinted into the baked ground. They were spread at even intervals and deep enough that they had to have been made by a man running at a steady pace.
Johns put himself in Riddick's place, waking up from cryo as the ship had come down, surviving the crash inside the tube then taking advantage of the moment to make his escape. He wouldn't have stopped to wonder if the world they'd crashed on was one of the inhabited colonies - his first priority would have been simply to get away. Only once he'd found a secure place to hide and made sure he'd evaded immediate pursuit would he have returned to the crash to scavenge supplies and weapons.
Johns nodded to himself. That made sense; it was in keeping with Riddick's past strategies, and it explained why he hadn't gone for the guns in the cargo section straight away. The insight pleased Johns; it meant he understood Riddick, and understanding him was his claim on the man, more profound even than the legal stake of a bounty hunter.
But he still wondered why, having found a place to hide, Riddick hadn't returned to search the cargo.
He started to follow the tracks, which led in the direction of the termite mounds. The suns' heat was relentless, and he had to stop frequently to inhale from his breather. His only consolation was that, no matter how harsh he found the environment, it would present an added complication for Riddick. In the suns' glaring light, Riddick would have to keep his protective goggles on constantly, or else be blinded by the intensity of the light hitting his enhanced retinas. That, Johns felt, was Riddick's chief weakness - the man was a brilliant improviser, but had the true psychopath's inability to plan. Faced with a lifetime's incarceration in slam's sunless tunnels, he'd chosen to adapt himself perfectly to complete darkness in order to escape, without considering for a second that he would be permanently disadvantaged in daylight. It was just one of the reasons Johns allowed himself to feel superior to his quarry.
When he at last reached the collection of mounds, he found they were less like termite hills than they had seemed at a distance. They were much bigger, for a start - the largest stood easily three times his height, and their surfaces had an oddly porous texture which was different to the hard ground.
Riddick's tracks slowed as they crossed the area of mounds, then stopped completely. It appeared to Johns that he had stood here for some time.
Then the tracks disappeared.
It took Johns a while to convince himself of that, but in the end there was no denying it. Riddick had entered the collection of mounds, but he hadn't left again.
Cautiously, he began to explore the mounds, treading lightly as he circled each one and raising the gun each time he rounded a blind corner, half expecting - hoping - to find himself face to face with Riddick. Each time he was disappointed.
Then he walked around to the far side of the largest of the mounds and understood why.
There was a hole in the side of the mound, revealing the interior to be hollow, and dark. Peering into it, Johns saw that the mound was actually a hollow shell which sat on top of a shaft or well. The sides of the shaft were uneven and rough; the whole thing looked to Johns to be organic rather than artificial, and it made him think of giant worms, burrowing their way through the planet and leaving equally giant worm-casts where they broke its surface. He pushed the thought aside hurriedly.
Suddenly it made perfect sense. A network of natural tunnels beneath the planet's surface, concealed and dark, was the perfect hiding place for Riddick. That was why the tracks entered the group of mounds but didn't come out again. Riddick had struck out in a new direction: down.
Johns stepped back from the mound and considered what to do next. Going down into the hole meant following Riddick into an environment where he had the advantage. On the other hand, the only alternative was to wait Riddick out - he'd have to emerge for supplies at some point. But Johns didn't have the luxury of time, and he didn't want to be weak with dehydration when Riddick arrived to finish him off.
He returned to the hole in the side of the mound and unclipped his torch from his belt. Shining it into the shaft, he saw at first nothing at all - the beam was too feeble to pierce far into the darkness.
Then something flashed at him from the depths. Twin spots of silver, there and gone again so fast that for an instant Johns thought he'd imagined them. Then he saw them again, and the shadows suddenly coalesced into a solid form, just as they had in his dream. It was Riddick, sitting at the bottom of the shaft. Riddick, looking right up at him.
Johns whipped his gun down so that he was aiming straight into the bottom of the shaft. He was taking aim when suddenly the keening wail he had heard at the crash site started up again. Now, however, it was many times louder. It was coming from deep in the earth, and the shaft was amplifying it and broadcasting it across the dead planet's surface. Before, the sound had just been eerie; now it was an overwhelming chorus of screeches and shrieks. If Johns had believed in such things, he would have said it was the voices of the damned, calling out from hell.
At the bottom of the shaft, something moved - not Riddick, something smaller and faster, darting and bird-like. It made what seemed to be a pecking motion around Riddick's torso; in the dimness, Johns thought he saw Riddick move sluggishly to beat it off, but without strength. Then Johns heard an ugly tearing, grinding noise, and he finally understood what was happening. Riddick's ideal hiding place was not so ideal after all. Something lived down there already. Something that liked the taste of fresh meat.
The situation should have pleased him - more than that, delighted him - but Johns found himself swiftly becoming angry instead. The price on Riddick's head was dependent on capturing him alive; he was worth nothing to Johns as a collection of bones rotting at the bottom of a hole on a dead planet. More than that, Johns had come to think of Riddick as his, and his alone. The battle of wills was between the two of them and no one else; that was why it was so fitting that it should conclude here, in this empty place. For some scavenging alien rat to intervene was just - wrong. It was insulting.
He shone his torch into the shaft to get a better look at the creature, trying to decide if there was any way he could shoot down into the hole to scare it off without accidentally hitting Riddick. The effect was immediate and unexpected. The creature gave a squawk, whipped round and fled back into the tunnels.
The light. It couldn't stand the light.
Now Riddick's position at the bottom of the shaft made sense. He must have been attacked shortly after descending into the tunnels, and tried to get back to the surface again. He'd failed - maybe because he'd been too badly injured to climb up - and so he'd tried instead to stay within the faint but saving halo of light from above. That was the only reason he wasn't dead yet.
Riddick, clinging to daylight, waiting to be rescued by Johns. Johns intended to spend quite a long time later on relishing the irony.
But first he had to save Riddick.
He was carrying cord and a small but sturdy grappling hook; preparation for any eventuality, Johns had found, was everything in his line of work. The side of the mound was thin and brittle, and it took him some time to find a grip secure enough to bear a heavy load. He tied the other end around his waist, hooked the gun and the torch into easily accessible positions on his belt, and lowered himself into the darkness.
The shaft, fortunately, was wide; if it had been only narrow enough for one person, the whole rescue attempt would have been doomed from the outset. As Johns descended, the light from above receded, fading to a faint and hazy glow, the memory of light.
He knew he'd reached the bottom of the shaft when his booted feet made contact with something soft. Shining the torch down, he saw he was standing in a thick, gummy mess of what looked like animal feces and shards of bone. The stench down here was foul, and he retched involuntarily. Several tunnels led off the base of the shaft, disappearing into total blackness after just a few feet. As he stood still and listened, Johns thought he could hear a sound coming out of the dark - the faint susurration of many sleeping creatures breathing in a muted chorus.
He had assumed that the shafts and tunnels extended only as far as the mounds did on the surface. The distant echoing noises he now heard made Johns suddenly wondered if he might have been wrong about that.
Riddick was sitting against the far wall of the shaft, his head lolling, eyes closed. He had sustained a large number of wounds all over his body - face, arms, legs, torso - and he was lying so still that for a moment Johns was sure he was too late, and Riddick was dead.
Then Riddick's eyes opened and those twin, blank silvery disks regarded Johns impassively.
Johns grinned at Riddick.
In the tunnels, something shrieked. Moving quickly, Johns lifted Riddick - dammit, the man was heavy - and secured him to the rope as well. Riddick stirred, giving Johns hope he wasn't too far gone to be of help. He took the other man's arms and wrapped them around himself, encouraging Riddick to hold on to him. When he responded, Johns felt a surge of relief.
The shriek sounded again, closer this time.
Johns pulled hard on the cord and started the ascent. Going up was harder - much harder - than the descent had been. Riddick was now sufficiently conscious enough to hold on to him, but was clearly too badly injured to be of any help with the climb. The cord cut deeply into Johns' palms, and he needed both hands on it at once to support them both. If he had to let go with one hand - to reach for his gun, for example - there was a real danger they would both fall back down the shaft.
Riddick grunted, and his neck and shoulder pressed against Johns' face. Johns parted his lips and let his tongue run over Riddick's skin. He tasted blood.
A shriek rang within the close confines of the shaft, deafeningly loud, followed by a leathery flapping noise.
Shit. The fuckers could fly.
Johns redoubled his efforts, dragging himself and Riddick up, toward the light above, and safety. He felt something snap at his boots, then a sharp pain lanced up through his leg and he gave a cry. His grip momentarily failed and for a sickening half-second they were both plummeting straight down.
As they fell, Johns looked into Riddick's eyes - straight into those shiny silver discs. He and Riddick locked gazes; neither man looked away. It occurred to Johns that he had wanted to be there when Riddick died, and he might just get his wish.
Then he thought: Not yet.
Johns grabbed the cord and gripped it as hard as he could. It was like holding fire, and he yelled. He didn't let go.
They stopped with a jerk. Something clattered metallically, and it took Johns a moment to realize it was his gun, dislodged from his belt and falling down to the bottom of the shaft. Damn, damn, damn.
Below them, the screeching had started up again, creating a perfect harmony with the shrieking agony in Johns' leg. For the first time, he started to doubt they were going to make it back to the surface alive.
Then he felt Riddick's lips moving against his ear, as if he were trying to say something, but lacked the energy. Riddick's hands tugged at his belt and for one insane second the real world slipped sideways into a fever dream. Was Riddick really going to -
Riddick's hand closed around the small torch which still hung at Johns' side. He felt Riddick's hand grip its length and carefully unhook it. And then he heard the almost inaudible click as Riddick turned it on and pointed it straight down.
The screech below became a noise of pain. The leathery flapping sounds became fainter, then faded away to nothing.
In the darkness, Johns could have sworn Riddick was smiling.
Johns started to climb again, ignoring the pain in his leg, concentrating on nothing except sliding his hands up the rope, holding, then sliding upward again. At the top of the shaft, he heaved himself and Riddick over the lip of the hole and out into the three-sun inferno. The blaze of heat and light were dazzling, but now welcome. Johns' leg was agonizingly painful, and the combined effects of dehydration and exhaustion stopped him moving at all for several minutes. He and Riddick lay side by side on the hard earth, arms still wrapped around each other like lovers. Riddick's eyes were closed, and Johns couldn't tell if he was unconscious again or if he was simply protecting his eyes from the intensity of the light. Whichever, it meant that Johns could look at him - really look at him - taking in every detail of his bloodied, hard face. He found he wanted to commit it perfectly to memory.
He would have stayed in that position longer, but his leg went into spasm, forcing him to roll over and sit up. Gingerly, he explored the wound, and found a wide gash. He winced, and added meds to the list of survival essentials he was going to have to locate, sooner rather than later.
He heard a noise - not the underground creatures' screaming, this time, but something more familiar. Riddick was sitting up slowly, and he was laughing. It started as a low rumble in his chest, and grew louder and more abrasive, making Johns angrier by the second. What the hell was so fucking funny? His leg wound? Ungrateful son of a -
Johns froze. Riddick was still laughing, and he was looking at Johns. Looking right at him with those flat, silver eyes. Without his protective goggles, because he didn't need them anymore.
With a cold sensation of fear, Johns turned around to look at the horizon, knowing even as he did so what he would see.
The dark ring of a rising planet was looming above the horizon. The red sun was already fully obscured; once it was gone, its blue and yellow sisters would not be far behind.
It was getting dark.