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As a child Vaako had lived on Acroba, a small, lightly industrialized planet in the Meza System. Acroba had been a place of scholars and vacationers as it offered year around perfect temperatures, mountains, streams, natural warm springs, and library upon library.

He had been the middle child of five and his family had called him Garrett. His father had been a Senior Park Rover watching to make sure tourists didn't get lost or injured, and his mother had been a Second Historian in the Second Planetary Library. He'd spent his early years following both his parents around while his siblings took on other interests.

By the time Garrett Vaako began adolescence he had already begun following in his father's footsteps of becoming an excellent hunter and tracker. His uncanny ability to see and hear things others missed almost rivaled his father's with just a few years of training. Though, his mother's influence had been just as present in his ability to absorb and retain knowledge on just about anything he read or saw. His future would have been whatever he wanted to make of it.

In the summer of his seventeenth year, while on a tracking assignment to find missing hikers who had last been seen in the Mila Caverns, Acroba had been attacked by a dark shadowy, armor-clad army he'd later come to know as Necromongers. By the time he returned to his home, his eldest sister and her family were dead, and the houses in the area were all but rubble from some type of ground-based blast weapon. He found his younger brother and mother's bodies in a battle torn archway leading to the libraries.

He fought his way through to the province amphitheater before being caught and dragged the rest of the way by soldiers. There in the center stood a man named Kryll who said he was the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers and he had come to Acroba to save them all.

Vaako watched as the crowd had dissented. Then watched as the Lord Marshal had pulled wispy clouds of smoke from several people as he seemed to be able to separate their physical bodies from their souls. Two he had let die, one he let live. That action had most of the crowd dropping to their knees and chanting "save us".

The news of what had happened in the amphitheater spread quickly and soon Acroba was no more. Natural resources were drained from the planet as rapidly as the data from all the libraries. Vaako had found himself being marched to one of the great ships and the last memory he had before waking as a convert had been one of great pain.

He never saw his younger sister or his father again. He had hopes they were already dead before the Lord Marshal had ordered the planet to be cleansed of all life. He had seen his older brother only once, shortly after their first purification. Vaako had been sorted into the rank and file of the soldiers and his brother had stood with several nobles.

By his third purification, very little of Garrett had remained and Vaako, soldier for the Necromongers, stood strong. Vaako had quickly climbed through the ranks, catching the attention of the then First Among Commanders Zhylaw for his actions on Petria. He was still the youngest convert to be granted the rank of sub-commander and a few short years later, Lord Marshal Zhylaw would grant him the rank of commander and the title of Lord.

He had met his Lady and married her solely because it was expected that a commander of his status would have a companion of status as well. He would not have worried about marriage or keeping the companionship to one individual had she not first approached him. Vaako would later look back on taking his wife as the first among several bad decisions.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Another bad decision--or maybe it had been a complete lack in judgment--had been that brief moment when Vaako looked down into the Grand Hall and he'd seen Garrett's little sister and not the newly purified convert, Kyra. He'd let the memory, most likely caused from not going to purification in several weeks, influence his actions. The hissing demands of his wife and her need for more power, along with his belief that he needed to best Zhylaw and before he knew it, he'd jumped over the balcony and into a fight that he knew he really wasn't able to win.

He had definitely made this mess and he was now kneeling in its remains. Correction, Vaako thought, he was fairly certain most of this had been caused by his wife's ambitious greed and need for power. She had gotten him into this mess while she stayed hidden somewhere in the balcony during the fight. The word bitch instantly came to mind for both the situation and her. He never should have listened to her. He never should have married her. He wondered if she'd fled the Grand Hall the moment he had knelt in front of the breeder, or if she was spying from some unseen location on the balcony.

Her plan had failed and now here he was kneeling waiting to see if he was going to die or not. So far death did not seem to be in his immediate future, as the new Lord Marshal seemed a little shell shocked. Vaako did not for a second believe this made the other man weak but more dangerous. And the more he thought about this whole mess, the hell if he truly wanted the job that killing the Lord Marshal would have gotten him. Leader of an army was a much better position than leader of his people. The breeder could have the job. Vaako wondered if the other man might want his wife too.

"Your command, Lord Marshal?" he asked quietly, moving his eyes without turning his head to glance at the man sitting on the throne and his thoughts shifted to a simple statement. His life, even if it was very short, was never going to be the same again.

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

For the first time in his life Riddick felt lost--not that the horde in front of him would know. He'd come here to kill one man and with that final blow and Zhylaw's death, he had been made the head honcho. The universe really was going down the drain.

Jack. It's Kyra now, he reminded himself. Was Kyra. Whomever the young girl was he pulled off Hades now lay dead at the base of the throne. He was only partially responsible for the girl being here, for the Necro kneeling directly in front of him was also to blame. But Kyra, had free will and in her desire to live, had made her own decisions, making her just as responsible as well.

Imam had told him Jack thought of him as a big brother, but what had Kyra wanted from him? What did the Elemental hovering off to the side want? What the hell did the kneeling mass want from him?

The warrior he'd fought several times now and had not yet managed to kill finally asked quietly of him, "Your command, Lord Marshal?"

"Leave this system. Move this armada to a black area of space. Someone get rid of the garbage on the floor. Leave the girl. Everyone else get out."

No one moved.

"Now!" Riddick growled and his voice seemed to ring throughout the hall. For a moment nothing happened, but when Riddick growled again the hall began to quickly empty.

"By your command, my Lord," the warrior answered before leaving the hall.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Richard B. Riddick had started out his life as an orphan. A baby boy found living among the death and destruction of a world that very few had ever paid attention to until the planet's distress beacon had started. By the time help had arrived, more than ninety percent of the population was dead, dying, or injured. The planet itself hadn't faired much better; its cities laid in smoke and rubble. At the time, no one had been sure what had caused the destruction, just that its people were no more.

A baby boy of no more than six months was easy to place with a family and for the first twelve years of Riddick's childhood his life was normal. He had loving parents who had given him his name--their name--had friends, and went to school where he did quite well. Though he was sometimes plagued by nightmares that seemed to come when he was stressed. When Riddick hit puberty his reflexes and muscles developed quite quickly, but his parents just thought that was normal for such an active child.

Riddick's life changed before his thirteenth birthday; his parents died in a transport accident and for the second time in his short life, Riddick found himself alone. This time there was no loving couple that wanted to adopt an almost grown child. He was moved from foster center to foster center. He started to get into fights and his education dropped to nearly none by the time he was fifteen. The nightmares from his childhood that had been few and far between increased in intensity and occurrence as he let the fury and rage of his family's death take control.

Halfway through his sixteenth year, he was arrested after he was in a fight that sent two boys to the medical complex, and one to the morgue. Riddick had actually been the victim in the incident as the other boys had jumped him. The ruling judge had sentenced Riddick to the interstellar defense force telling him that "this will give you an outlet and a chance to serve the place you call home."

The military was a good outlet for Riddick. His endurance and strength--innate skills he didn't know he had--developed at an even quicker pace than his drill sergeants expected. After two years of training, from hand-to-hand to machine operation and flight requirements he was assigned to a crappy planet named Sigma 3.

Sigma 3 taught him a lot about human nature and himself. He learned skills that made him a better soldier, and some that would later make him a very efficient killer. He also learned that doing the right thing by reporting the slavery and corruption on Sigma 3's moon had been stupid. That helping people often left you in a shallow grave.

He was sentenced to his first slam for doing the right thing. He spent three years in that slam before escaping. But this escape would start the saga that became Riddick's life. He killed three people to make the escape and the company that sent him to prison to cover up their own misdeeds put a million credit bounty on his head. The more he escaped, the more he ran; the more people who got in his way, the higher the bounty.

During his stay in Butcher Bay, the nightmares picked up again and after a bout of sleeplessness and time running and hiding throughout the prison, he woke one night to eyes that could see in the dark. Whether he had made a deal with some doctor or Pope Joe had done it for finding his damn radio or whomever, he doesn't quite remember and the story about the twenty menthol Kools sounded good the first time he told it. That he can't clearly remember that day is one of the few things in his life that still bothers him; but he took the shining eyes as a new skill and learned to use them to his benefit.

His life after that moment became more about staying one step ahead of the bounty hunters and mercenaries after him than anything else. He was a killer, not an assassin. He didn't do it for the money, just to stay alive. And, every now and then, in a moment of weakness or perhaps in a moment when he remembered that at one time he did have a set of loving adoptive parents, he would help someone--mostly women and children though--and if there was something in it for him, even better.

His life took another major turn after the events on Hades. How he hated that planet. How he hated Carolyn Fry for unburying his humanity.

"Are you going to sit there and stare into the void the whole night?"

"Lady, did you not hear me tell everyone to get out?"

Aereon gave a small shrug and floated more to one side out of Riddick's direct reach. She might be an Elemental but she was sure that Riddick's reflexes were up to catching her before she could become air again.

"You should at least put the child to rest," Aereon said as she glided down the stairs toward the body. "The one they call Vaako left you an unadorned casket." She indicated the black oval-shaped container sitting several yards from Kyra's body.

The Elemental solidified as she walked towards a side entrance. Her last comment more of a whisper than anything else. "I believe he thought highly of her skills, but you would have to ask him to be sure."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick didn't move for several more minutes, but he was now looking down at Jack. For he had decided Jack was who she really was. She may have been Kyra before Hades and then again sometime in the last few years, but Jack was who he truly remembered.

Maybe Iman had been right, Jack had become his family. And now, again, his family was gone. He was once again alone. As long as you didn't count the thousands of brainwashed people in the fleet he now found himself the leader of. "Universe is circling the drain," he said, making his way off the dais.

"Perhaps, Lord Marshal, you are just not looking at this as you should," came a voice from just inside the door.

Riddick glared. His silvery eyes clearly seeing the man who was all but blending into his surroundings. The one Aereon had called Vaako. "Do you people not understand 'get out' and its full meaning?"

"I have come for the girl. We are approaching the Altaren Nebula. I believe she would have liked this region of space."

"Do you now," Riddick growled.

Vaako made no move to come further into the Grand Hall. Their voices seeming to either carry just fine or it was, as Riddick suspected, that this Necro's hearing was nearly as good as his own. He'd seen the man fight on Crematoria and the skill under the armor he wore. "She often spoke of the Doradus Nebula, when she wasn't speaking of you that is. This nebula has similar qualities and emissions."

"You mean she would have found it pretty."

Vaako inclined his head.

Riddick knelt down and gently picked up Jack's body, carrying her across the chamber to the now opened casket. He had heard the movement as Vaako had very quietly moved to open the device and just as quietly moved back to his position by the door. Riddick added that to the list of skills he was compiling on the other man.

"Was she your mate?"

Riddick didn't answer right away. He carefully laid Jack into the device, arranging her body and clothes before brushing a stray hair from her face. He then pressed the panel that would close and lock the casket. "No," he finally answered, "she was family."

Vaako inclined his head again and opened the chamber doors.

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

Vaako stayed in front of the Lord Marshal, leading him to one of the launch bays where the casket could be jettisoned into the nebula. He figured if the Furyan was going to kill him it wouldn't be until after this observance was over.

"Where's your zombie horde?"

"My Lord?"

"Where are all the people?" Riddick asked again, the annoyance at having to ask again clear in his gravelly voice.

Vaako didn't pause as he stepped into a lift and waited for Riddick and the casket before he entered their destination. "You have ordered us out into the black, my Lord," he said as if that answered everything.

"Do you plan on making it out of this box alive?"

"Yes, my Lord, as you do not know where we are going."

"Do you plan on living after that?"

The door to the lift opened. "That would depend on you, my Lord."

Vaako again preceded the other man down the hall. He wasn't sure why he was goading the other man on. The Furyan could probably kill him faster than anyone else on the Basilica, but right now he wasn't sure if he cared. He just wanted it done if it was going to happen, but he wouldn't go without a fight.

When he'd left the Grand Hall, he immediately issued the orders that came with moving the fleet deep into uninhabited space--an order that included cryosleep for ninety percent of the fleet, leaving only essential civilian and military personnel and a dozen or so nobles awake and thinking. He'd left the empty casket for the female's body before following several of the Purifiers who had removed Zhylaw's body, which would be taken down to the incinerators and destroyed.

Vaako avoided the incinerators, instead making sure all final measures had been completed by all ships in the fleet, before ordering the departure from the Helion System. When the task was completed, he returned to his chambers to remove the ceremonial armor that was not made for close quarters combat, if Riddick was going to kill him, it wasn't going to be in a large open room but some small dark space where the heavy armor would be more of a hindrance. He was thankful his wife had not yet returned to their chambers. Though, he had no doubt that she was either off plotting or spying and eventually she would slither out of hiding and come to him with a new plan. A plan he intended to ignore if he was still alive at the end of the day.

"We are here my Lord." Vaako opened a slot in the wall at the same height the casket floated. "When you are ready you need only press this panel and she will start her exploration of the nebula."

"Not very Necro, is it?"

Vaako shrugged. "She was still a breeder at heart. Had her weapon killed Zhylaw then we would be bowing to her and not you."

Riddick laughed as he palmed the panel that sent the casket speeding on its way to the center of the nebula. "She wouldn't want the job. Do you?"

"No."

Riddick tilted his head and his shining eyes peered right into Vaako. "Then why did you jump into the battle?"

Vaako closed his eyes, possibly a very dangerous thing to do considering who else was in the room with him. "My wife would believe I did it to become Lord Marshal," Vaako said opening his eyes. "But I did it for the girl, Kyra. And maybe for myself."

"Her name was Jack."

"As you wish, my Lord."

The two of them stood there in quiet watching the nebula. "It'd be in my best interest to kill you now."

"You can try, my Lord."

The Furyan turned from the viewport to him. "Didn't think you'd be that easy. What is it you do on this tub?"

Vaako didn't turn, his eyes still on the nebula. "Whatever my Lord commands."

Riddick snorted. "And how did that work out for the last Lord Marshal?"

Vaako inclined his head to the other man; he did have a point there. "He trusted his otherworldly powers more than his own strengths. Maybe even his own people. That got him where he is now."

He waited for the other man to say something, but all Riddick did was move to lean against the bulkhead wall where he could keep one eye on him and one eye back out into space where the fleet was slowly pulling away from the nebula. The non-action was making him twitchy. He wasn't sure what to do or think when it came to the Furyan breeder. He could already tell the Furyan would not go for the conversion process. He was also quite sure that the idea of heading to the Threshold was out for the moment. His instinct told him to volunteer information about what the new Lord Marshal controlled; the nagging insecurity, which he now associated with his wife, said to say nothing.

"There are eleven frigates about two-thirds the size of the Basilica--this ship--in your fleet and more than two dozen transport and escort ships. Though those are currently docked within the larger ships. Is there something you would like to know about your people or shall I just show you to your chambers?"

"They aren't my people."

"You keep what you kill, my Lord. We are your people now."

Riddick grunted but pushed away from the wall. "You can show me to my quarters and explain what orders were given when I sent us into the Black."

"As you wish, my Lord."

"And you can quit with that. The name's Riddick."

Vaako was going to argue for a moment then thought better of it. "As you wish, Riddick."

The Furyan growled. That, Vakko did ignore.

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

The previous Lord Marshal liked swanky comforts and over indulgences. Riddick liked things more on the minimalist scale. He tossed out more than two-thirds of the things in the chambers that were now his, including all the statues and the three consorts he found in the main bedroom.

He'd ask Vaako if he wanted them. The other man had tried to offer him his wife instead. After his first true up close and personal run in with the Dame Vaako, Riddick could see why the other man would want to get rid of the woman. But she was Vaako's problem and not his. For now.

His immediate problem, after three weeks of putting it off, was the dozen and a half people sitting around the large conference table, more than half of whom were arguing for his attention. They were a mix of the so called nobles, the working class, the purifiers and the military, and all but two were part of some type of council that reported to the Lord Marshal. Vaako had informed him that as First Among the Commanders he no longer had to be there and excused himself but not before handing Riddick a handheld data tablet. For the past half hour while he read all about the men and women sitting at the table he had ignored them all.

"She should not be here," a woman in a dark blue scaled dress bellowed for the fifth time. Her focus was on the Air Elemental, Aereon, who was sitting quietly to Riddick's immediate right observing the scene like it was some type of theatre show.

Riddick put the tablet down and stared at the woman. She was a noble, the Lady Cana, from the Frigate Claw; and according to the data he'd just read, had slept and possibly killed her way to where she was. "The Elemental at least has not spoken since she's been here." The noise in the room stopped. Whether it was from the fact he had finally spoken or because of the knife he was now twirling around the fingers in his left hand Riddick didn't care.

"I was going to dissolve this whole council thing, but I've decided to shake some things up."

This time Commander Beal, one of the military commander's Zhylaw had appointed to the council, stood up and banged his fist on the table. "You can't do that! This council has been here for the last three Lord Marshals!"

"Yah might not have noticed," Riddick said flipping the knife into the palm of his hand before sending it flying into Beal's throat, "I ain't them." Commander Beal's body dropped to the ground, his armor clanking as he fell.

"That is perfectly clear to us, my Lord," a noble man all but sneered, but quickly shut his mouth when Riddick grinned and pulled out another knife.

Riddick pressed a button on the table and a few moments later Vaako entered the council chamber. "You rang, my Lord." Riddick smirked, he wondered if Vaako knew that he had gotten a little snarkier since he had stopped going to his weekly purifications.

He watched as Vaako's gaze swept the room the instant the man stepped foot into it and that within a second he had noticed the empty chair and Commander Beal's body.

The Furyan pointed to the occupied chair on his left. "Sit."

Vaako raised one of his eyebrows at the order, but took the seat as soon as the tech that had been sitting there stood up.

The tech, the one Necrompnger at the table not part of the council, moved to stand at the wall but was stopped by the Lord Marshal's voice. "Nope, Pine, isn't it?" When the tech quickly nodded his head, Riddick told him to sit in the chair to Vaako's left.

"Good. Now," he looked back at Vaako, "who's your most trusted underling?"

"Sub Commander Par," Vaako said without hesitation.

"Was he with you on Crematoria?"

"No," Vaako answered. "I left him in command of my ground troops during that little excursion."

Riddick snorted, but looked at Pine instead. "Get him here."

Pine pulled his tech equipment out and started typing, locating the sub commander in just a few seconds. "He's on the Talon, my Lord. I will need to use this room's Quasi Dead to get him here."

Riddick waved the tech to the corner of the room he knew contained the device that housed the creepy almost dead thing the Necromongers used to communicate ship to ship. Vaako had told him they were people who had reached a higher plane of existence, for their faith, and could now communicate with each other over tremendous distances. Riddick still thought they were creepy, and had denied the request from the Purifiers to recreate the Order of the Great Quasi Dead that were kept just outside of the Grand Hall and were used to interrogate enemies. If he wanted someone interrogated, he could do it himself.

"While we wait for this Par," Riddick leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table, "Let's get a few other things out of the way."

By the time Sub Commander Par arrived Lady Cana was sporting a knife wound to the shoulder and one of the Purifiers was dead on the floor.

Riddick had smirked when Vaako had barely whispered, "At this rate you won't have a council."

"You requested my presence, my Lord Marshal," Sub Commander Par said, standing at attention just within door.

"Sit. You've been promoted and now serve as the military aspect of my council. You two," the Furyan indicated the two commanders sitting at the council table, "are off the council. I suggest you leave without saying a word or someone will be carrying out your bodies."

Riddick paused. "Oh, and that whole keep what you kill thing, it don't apply to this council. If they end up dead, the victor won't end up here and this council might just get smaller. Might hold it against the old members and end your life in this verse. That goes for all of you."

Next Riddick looked at the Purifiers and pointed his knife between the two men still alive at the table in a strange game of innie minnie minney mo. "You're in and you're out."

This was repeated twice more with the nobles and the working class. The nobles were whittled down to two and the working class three. "Good this is done. Everyone out and take the bodies with you."

When the room cleared out and only Riddick and Vaako remained, Vaako spoke. "I was hoping to never be involved with those people again."

"I kept the ones you suggested and now you only have to deal with seven of them."

"I see, but you kept me too."

"You'd miss all the fun if you weren't here." Riddick smirked. "Go away Vaako. Come back midday tomorrow."

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

Vaako left the Council Chamber and leaned against the wall. His life was changing every moment that man sat on the throne and he wasn't sure all the changes were for the worse. Since the fleet had been held in the Black he had spent most of his days by Riddick's side watching as the new Lord Marshal taunted the nobles and military commanders that were awake. And when given a chance, trying to educate the Furyan on Necromonger history and ways. Some days went better than others. Others ended in someone dying or running from the Lord Marshal's presence.

And then there was the fact Riddick's sense of humor was actually beginning to grow on him and it was a little unnerving. Though since the challenge for his position, he'd rather put up with Riddick than return to his chambers and listen to his wife bitch about the Furyan.

He'd tried to convince her cryosleep was the perfect place for her to be since the Lord Marshal had turned down her sexual advances and she would never sit on the High Council. She wouldn't listen and was probably plotting his demise again, or the Lord Marshal's. His mind spun in another direction. "She's no doubt plotting a way for me to kill him."

Vaako snorted. He was quite sure he was not that crazy. He was also sure he wasn't returning to his chambers anytime soon. He might as well inspect the troops that were awake. Then he could read all the performance reviews from the other commanders and sub commanders. After that he could go to the purification chambers.

But probably not.

Since Riddick had come aboard the first time, Vaako had not been back to the purification chambers. At first it was because there was no time and now it was because he didn't want to go. Some of his memories from his youth were returning and with those memories came skills and knowledge that he had thought forgotten.

His body was also changing. Though his pain threshold seemed to be remaining very high and, by everything he read, would probably never decrease, his skin tone was losing some of the paleness and his eye color seemed to be less dull. He'd also noticed the speed in which he could move wasn't slowing down like he thought it would but was becoming smoother and more graceful. Especially with bladed weapons, it was like the weapon became a part of him without him having to consciously think through the motions of an attack.

He took down every opponent he sparred with except when he was sparring with Riddick. On occasion he'd score a hit or two against the other man but they were barely nicks or scratches. He'd heard whispers it was because he wasn't fit to be First Among Commanders or because he was afraid to kill the Lord Marshal and take his place.

Vaako had ignored all the whispers until a week ago when he had been challenged for his position. Commander Del and four mid-level soldiers had jumped him on his way to a meeting with the Lord Marshal. All five men had been in light armor while he'd been in mid-weight trousers and shirt. The fight had been fast and messy and he had needed a new shirt afterward but the whispers had stopped when he was the only one left breathing.

His wife had been surprised when he returned to their chambers to change clothes. He knew she was a power hungry bitch, but the moment he had walked through the door after the ambush and seen the expression on her face, he'd been convinced that she really was trying to kill him. Though she hid it well and smiled prettily at him while trying to point fingers at the Lord Marshal as the instigator of the attack. Vaako had snorted and told her that if Riddick had wanted him dead then the Lord Marshal would have no problem doing it himself.

Vaako shook his head to clear it and pushed away from the wall. Perhaps he would find a hidden corner and read the historical files he'd pulled from the Lord Marshal's computer system.

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

Riddick stepped out of the shadows when Vaako turned left at the corner of the hallway. He gave a small grin having no doubt that the other man was still avoiding his wife and would probably end up in one of two bolt holes to read and nap.

The Furyan had several ways to pass the time, among them were taunting the awake Necromongers, irritating the Elemental, reading whatever the next lesson his First Among thought was important, and trying to avoid the nobles who wanted into his bed. But lately his favorite thing was watching Vaako; whether he was sparring or reading the locked history files of all the planets the Necromongers had visited and conquered. Riddick had even gone so far as releasing the controls on the private system in his chambers so Vaako could access the personal journals and papers of the previous Lord Marshals.

The Elemental had called him on the fact that by feeding Vaako's love of knowledge he was also keeping the other man out of the hands of the Purifiers. It was true. He liked how Vaako smelled and moved now that he was no longer part of the walking zombie squad.

Riddick eased back into the shadows, pressing the symbol in the decorated wall that would release the catch for the hidden door in the paneling. The door lead to a series of passageways hidden throughout the Basilica that could take a person from an observation deck that overlooked the Grand Hall to the Purifying Chambers and then around and down into the engine rooms and back up to the Lord Marshal's private chambers.

He'd found no evidence of anyone, including the last Lord Marshal, having used the passages in the last several years, if not longer. The more Riddick explored them the more he realized that some of the statues really were eyes and ears into the life of the people on the Basilica--the public areas as well as their private chambers.

Some hunting through very old ship logs and records of building had gotten Riddick the blue prints for both the Basilica and the other frigates. The other eleven ships were built using the same blueprint which meant they each had a set of hidden corridors. Though the ones built on the frigates seemed more for escape and evasion than for spying, as several of the passages terminated at small pod-like escape ships.

Riddick's meandering through the passages took him to the chamber where Dame Vaako liked to hold court with a few of the nobles and higher ranked military. He was letting them meet while he memorized their faces. Memorized who appeared at more than one meeting and who never came back.

Over the next several weeks Riddick had plans to slowly order Vaako to waken the cryosleepers all across the fleet in a sequence they were not accustomed. Throwing off their normal pattern to see who gravitated where and what they did. And maybe Dame Vaako would do something foolish and he could toss her from the ship...preferably into space. She was getting in the way of what he wanted.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

The first two waves of waking sleepers produced nothing entertaining for Riddick. It wasn't until the third when Dame Vaako got a little more insistent with her come ons while also slithering up to several of the newly awakened grunts and nobles did the entertainment begin. He watched as she slept with several of the nobles behind Vaako's back and then used it to curry favors with others. The planning for the demise of the new Lord Marshal had finally begun more than a week ago and so far they'd been on the dull side as far as assassination attempts went.

Riddick had killed several of the agents and one or two of the ring leaders while they slept in their cozy little beds. He was surprised when people didn't think he was behind the deaths but instead pointed fingers at others trying to move up in rank before everyone else was awake.

His silver eyes followed Dame Vaako as she exited the room knowing she would return to the chambers she still technically shared with Vaako. He moved into the hidden passageway and turned in the direction he knew would take him to the panel that would allow him to watch the confrontation he hoped was finally to come. After all, his First Among, and Riddick really hated that title, was getting twitchy.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick moved the metal panel out of the way which left a sheer screen that gave him a clear view of the chamber. He could see Dame Vaako sitting primly at her dressing table while she babbled on about her perfect plan to kill him. She turned to look at Vaako when he didn't answer her. "Are you listening to me, dear husband?"

"No," Vaako replied and Riddick smirked. This was definitely going to be entertaining.

The Dame circled on her husband ready to slap him across the face, but the look on Vaako's face as well as the intensity of his next comment stopped her. "I would not try that unless you wish for me to break your wrist."

Dame Vaako lowered her hand and her glare darkened, but her voice took on a sickly sweet lilt. "What has gotten into you my dear husband?"

"I have been contemplating many things, dear wife. Your adultery and a divorce among them."

She laughed. "You wouldn't dare divorce me." She returned to her dressing table. "You are nothing without me," she added as if that would bring the conversation to an end.

"You are wrong, dear wife. I would very much like a divorce; one way or another."

Riddick leaned in a little and smiled when he heard Vaako's words, knowing the woman would not tolerate his First Among Commander's words. And he was right. The screech of rage that came from her was followed by her flying from her chair, an elegant little penknife grasped in her hand. "You keep what you kill," she sneered while charging at him, "and I will get your place at his side until I can kill him."

The Furyan watched as Vaako batted her easily to the side. But she simply picked herself up and charged again. This time Vaako captured her arm and twisted until the woman's wrist snapped and she bellowed in pain.

"You should stop now, dear wife, or you will never walk out of this room."

The Lord Mashal saw the madness in the woman's eyes and knew she wasn't going to stop until one of them was dead. She picked up the knife with the other hand and made an attempt to once again stab her husband. This time Vaako grabbed her wrist and spun her, bringing the knife with her hand still wrapped around the handle up and plunging it into her own chest. As she began to wilt towards the floor she tried to talk but nothing but gasps for air came out.

Riddick saw that Vaako's expression seemed to run from horror to calm in a span of a few short seconds while he looked down at his dying wife's body. "I guess I no longer have to worry about a divorce," he heard Vaako say.

He watched Vaako kneel down next to the woman. "I would have let you leave this ship alive," he heard him whisper calmly to her. "But you can never have my place at his side."

The final expression on her face, Riddick would always remember fondly.

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

Vaako sat quietly on the edge of his bed and stared down at the body of his now deceased wife. This was not how he had intended things to go with the woman who'd been slowly driving him crazy with all her nefarious plots and plans. He had been prepared to ignore the adultery and simply divorce her and then have her ordered from the Basilica.

As far as plans went, he knew it was a weak one. With her still alive, even on one of the other frigates, she would still have influence and her schemes would eventually make it back to the Lord Marshal. He had just wanted more time to deal with the matter.

More time to deal with his own changes.

Now he had to clean up the mess in his chambers and dispose of the body. He looked around the chambers at all the other items that could be removed at the same time as the body.

He sighed, glancing around the room before moving the body to the dressing table. From there he started tossing things in that direction from cabinets and drawers as he moved around the room. By the time he was finished he felt somewhat better. He called down to the maintenance floor and requested that four of their people report to his chambers. Several minutes later his chambers were being cleared.

"If you believe your mates will want any of that," he pointed to the pile of clothes and jewelry, "take it. The rest, have incinerated."

"As you command, Lord Vaako."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

As undignified of an action as it could be, Vaako flopped back on the bed as soon as the last load of junk had been hauled out of his chambers and the door had been locked. He thought he would only close his eyes for a few brief moments, but almost nine hours later he woke. It was the first time in more than a month he remembered sleeping that much and no less in his own bed, but he definitely felt better.

Vaako stretched and then stood up and stretched again. He looked down at the mess he'd left on the linen by not removing his blood soaked clothes before he crashed due to exhaustion. He grimaced and gathered the damaged linen and piled it on the floor near the door. His clothes were soon added to the pile before he padded to the shower.

The hot water from the sprays felt good and he relaxed even more. He placed his palms on the shower wall at about shoulder level and dunked his head into the spray, letting the water run through his hair and over his shoulders. Vaako rolled his shoulders a few times before reaching behind him to pull the nearly waist length braids forward so he could look at them. He grasped the hair in one hand and reached for the knife he'd placed on the shelf in the shower, then used it to slice through his hair right above where his hand was.

Vaako reached outside the shower and dropped the braids in the bin that was there and then put the knife back on the shelf. He needed both hands to work the cleaner through his hair and unbraid what remained of the twists his dead wife had insisted was the style he needed.

With the gel removed, his hair now fell evenly around his head. When he was on duty or battle-ready he would have to pull it back, but the shoulder length hair felt lighter and now couldn't as easily be grabbed by a challenger as the long braids.

Vaako dressed in lightweight but sturdy clothes and grabbed the data pad from the stand next to his bed. He was going to find something to eat and then take several hours to read through the historical files the Lord Marshal had given him. Then he'd review troop reports and work on the next wave of wakenings.

When it came right down to it, he needed a few days to himself. He needed to get settled into the changes he was making in his life. He wanted to go through the memories of his life before he'd been taken from his planet now that they had begun to return. Vaako had even found his own intake record while using the machine in the Lord Marshal's chamber. He'd also found the records of his planet. He was hoping that by reading those he could find answers to some of the things he'd been dreaming about.

And then there was the fact Vaako needed time to figure out what he was really feeling for Riddick. One moment the Furyan was driving him insane and the next, he wanted to wipe the smirk off Riddick's face by either starting a fight or kissing him, or both.

The problem was Vaako had no idea how Riddick would react if he pushed the other man into a wall and kissed him. The Furyan had several knives on his body at all times and Vaako would rather not find one of them sticking out of his chest. Add in the fact the Lord Marshal had turned away everyone who approached him for sex; maybe the Breeder didn't like sex.

Vaako snorted. No, it wasn't that. It was more like Riddick was waiting for something. What that something was, Vaako had no clue. He'd have to think on that later but for now he just wanted to get back to business.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Vaako spent two days avoiding Riddick's summons. He would owe Pine as he used the other man to answer the summons, as well as a messenger, because he was fairly certain Riddick wouldn't kill the tech. He would even go so far as to guess that Riddick actually liked the tech. Though it did look as if the Furyan was taking his irritation out on a couple of nobles Vaako knew had been plotting against the Lord Marshal.

That at least meant Riddick was reading what was being passed on to him and so far the disappearance of the two nobles hadn't been linked back to the Lord Marshal; nor had any of the other deaths. Vaako doubted anyone but him knew it had been Riddick.

The whispers in the halls were mostly about him, as it seemed the whole Basilica knew he was now single due to the fact that his wife had angered him. They even thought he might be responsible for Lord Ansford's grizzly death, after all the man had been sleeping with his wife.

Vaako took a deep breath and pressed in the code that would allow him access to the Lord Marshal's chambers. He was now ready to get back to working with Riddick. To help the man undertake whatever crazy plan he had in mind and maybe have a little fun doing it too.

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

Riddick was getting accustomed to the sheer size of his private chambers--three bedrooms, two bathing chambers, a private office, a small personal dining room, and several other small rooms that could be used for varying activities including sparring. It was the largest amount of space he could call his own since UV-6, but that frozen wasteland had been far less hospitable. Once he'd gotten rid of the previous Lord Marshal's junk and had Pine remove several of the light crystals from the wall sconces, he'd made the place his own.

He only used the master bedroom and the connected bathing chamber. Vaako used the private office more than he did. He found the Lord Marshal's chambers to be easily defensible, especially since as far as anyone else was concerned there was only a single door in and out of the chamber. The fact was that the Lord Marshal's chambers had six hidden doors that led into four different passageways. Riddick was contemplating telling Vaako about them in the near future. If he admitted to himself, which Riddick would never do since he had stopped second guessing his instincts long ago, he was never quite sure why he took an instant liking to the man who had tried to kill him several times.

That first week was a struggle for both of them--seeing how far the other could push before a fight would ensue. After the first fight had ended with them both on the floor and bleeding from cuts to their arms, Riddick had never worried about one of the fights ending in his death. Vaako had seemed to use the fights to get Riddick to actually listen to what he was saying. Riddick in turn had used the fights to get Vaako to see that there was more than just the Necromonger Way.

Over the last few days, while Vaako got his head on straight, Riddick had actually tried the whole purification process and the machine had done nothing for or to him. He guessed his so called pain already lessened everything else; after all, he supposedly carried most of the anger and pain of the Furyan race within himself. He had only attempted the process to get the Purifiers to leave him alone. After three hours of hanging in the machine reserved for the Lord Marshal with nothing but the feeling of being zapped by low level electricity, he'd had enough and extracted himself from the process. The Chief Purifier had dropped to his knees and declared his complete loyalty to the Furyan, as no one had ever been able to remove themselves from the process once it had started.

The Purifier's second had fumed and ranted even as the Chief Purifier had tried to quiet his assistant. But Riddick wasn't worried about the ranting man any longer as he and a handful of other people had been flushed out an airlock several hours ago. This time not for considering an assassination attempt against the Lord Marshal, but for considering it against something Riddick considered his. Plus Vaako wasn't replaceable.

Riddick was sure his Purification tale had made it to all the ships now. There was no proof that it had even happened, except for the Chief Purifier's word, as within a day the marks left by the electrodes had already begun to fade from the side of his neck.

He leaned back and propped his feet on the table in the small conference room that doubled as his private dining room. When the main chamber door opened without the chime requesting admittance sounding, he knew Vaako was ready to get back to work as his First Among was the only person he had given the entrance code to for the door.

"So," Vaako asked entering the room, "are the rumors true?"

Riddick took a bite of the fruit he was holding in his hand before answering. It gave him a moment to run his eyes over the man that stood in front him. Vaako seemed more relaxed, his skin had a little more color, and he'd lost the beads and braids in his hair. "Which rumor?" he asked. "The one about the faulty airlock or the one about the purification, or about you killing your wife in a mad rage that could be heard floors away?"

Vaako raised an eyebrow. "As the last would have been a highly undignified act for one such as myself, how about you answer the questions that pertain to you."

Riddick dropped his feet to the floor with a thud. "So you got rid of the harpy then?"

"She got rid of herself," Vaako answered sitting down. He leaned across the table to take one of the blue fruits from the bowl and his sharp vision just made out the fading marks on the Lord Marshal's neck. "I see the marks are fading." Vaako used one of his fingers to brush the air around his own purification marks. "Now what is this about an airlock?"

"Just some bothersome people I needed to get rid of."

"Anything I should be aware of or anyone I should know about because they have friends that could come looking for retribution?"

"Doubt it."

"Doubt it." Vaako parroted back. "Have you been enjoying yourself these last few days?"

Riddick cocked his head to the side and smiled. "Not nearly as much as I could be."

"You are, what my mother would have called, a malcontent hoodlum," Vaako said before taking a bite of the fruit. His eyes were now focused on the data pad he'd picked up off the table.

Riddick didn't say anything as Vaako had never truly spoken of his life or his parents before. He couldn't exactly say Vaako or his mother, for that matter, would have been wrong in their observation.

Scrolling through the list of dead who had apparently met their end due to an electrical short in the airlock system on deck twelve, Vaako asked curiously, "Anyone else you plan to secretly remove from this 'verse that I should know about?"

Riddick stood from the table. "Nope. No more secrets. Plan on hitting a ship and letting people know it's me this time." He walked around to Vaako's chair and leaned down to whisper, "Why? You interested in helping me?"

"Yeah, I think I am."

Riddick grinned. "Good. Read over this then," he added, passing over another data pad.

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

The planning was interrupted when the chime on the Lord Marshal's door sounded. "Expecting someone?" Vaako asked, putting down the pad he'd been reading from.

Riddick snorted and touched a button inlaid in the table. "You really think anyone who wasn't expected would be knocking on my door?" he asked while the tabletop shimmered for a second before an image of a young woman with long, dark red hair and carrying several baskets appeared.

He pressed another button and then they both heard the main chamber door slide open allowing the woman access. A few seconds later Vaako got a clear look at the woman Riddick was allowing into his chambers as she appeared in the small dining room. She bowed her head and said "my Lords" before moving around the table opposite where they were sitting and into the small kitchen that was separated from the dining room by a serving window and door.

Riddick acknowledged her presence with one word, Mina, before turning back to Vaako and their plans for the next several days. He tried to hide his amusement when Vaako waved his hand toward the kitchen and the woman, but the slightly annoyed look on the other man's face proved that he'd failed in the attempt. Riddick now openly smirked as he could clearly read the questions that Vaako wanted to ask aloud. Like who was she, was it safe for them to be talking in front of her, was she warming the Lord Marshal's bed.

The Furyan tilted his head slightly and looked the other man over from head to toe before asking, "Did cutting your hair affect your judgment?"

Vaako snorted. "It did not. But caution has always kept me breathing."

The conversation halted again when Mina came out of the kitchen carrying a steaming pitcher and two stoneware glasses. She once again walked around the table to place the items on the table between the two men and then picked up the nearly empty bowl of fruit.

"Mina, is it?" Vaako asked.

"Yes, my Lord."

"Where did the Lord Marshal find you?"

"In the hall, my Lord. Deck nine to be precise. How and why, you will need to ask the Lord Marshal."

"Riddick," the Furyan growled.

"As you wish, my Lord," Mina said, taking the bowl and returning to the kitchen.

Riddick could tell that Vaako wasn't going to let this go. The other man really did like to have all the information he could. "I will tell you later."

"Yes, I believe you will," Vaako insisted.

The Furyan bared his teeth and growled and this time it held a hint of warning to it. "You exceed your place, Vaako." Riddick could tell Vaako was testing him but he wasn't sure if Vaako knew why.

"My place is by your side," Vaako stated.

"Is it?" Riddick snarled, leaning in to grasp the front of Vaako's tunic and pull the other man towards him. He stopped pulling when Vaako's mouth was but a few inches from his. "Is it?" he repeated.

Vaako looked Riddick in the eye and calmly reached up and wrapped his fingers around Riddick's wrist, tugging lightly. "It is."

Riddick only waited a moment before he released his grasp and sat back. "We'll see," he grunted, having seen Mina standing in the kitchen's doorway.

The sound of Mina clearing her throat had Vaako leaning back into his own chair. "My apologies, my Lord, but should I serve your meal now or wait until you have finished your, uh, conversation?"

Riddick chuckled. "Nah, Mina, now is fine. Vaako and I have put our conversation on hold for the moment. I know how much you hate cleaning up messes."

"Thank you, my Lord." Mina gave a small smile and returned to the kitchen.

"Let me guess," Vaako said with a sigh, "you will explain that later too."

Riddick only smiled and watched as Mina quickly returned with two plates and a small basket of fresh bread.

"There is a cobbler, as you requested, my Lord, in the warmer. Will there be anything else for now?"

The Furyan smiled to himself as he watched as Vaako's attention was drawn to a black tattoo of swirls that ringed Mina's left wrist. "Where were you from Mina?" the Furyan asked.

"Acroba," came the woman's response.

"But you were not there when the Necromongers landed?"

"No, my Lord. I was twelve, too young to stay alone while my mother traveled. She was a story collector for the Fourth Library, we were on Pana IV when Acroba fell."

"And now you're a cook?"

Mina offered a small smile as if being called "a cook" was normal. "I was a cook before the Necromongers landed on Pana IV."

Vaako nodded. "My apologies," he said, remembering that not everyone was separated into the military or the few spaces reserved for the noble class; and that someone had to be responsible for all the manual labor that was needed on the frigates.

"I have a question for you before you leave, Mina," Riddick said before popping a piece of bread into his mouth and savoring the slightly sweet flavor. "Where did your name come from?"

"Pardon, my Lord, I'm not sure I understand. My parents gave me my name when I was born."

"That question makes no sense, Riddick. It's like me asking where your name came from," Vaako stated, putting his fork down and ignoring the other man for a moment. "The meal is excellent, Mina. You said there was cobbler?"

"Yes, my Lord. Made from the blue fruit you enjoy."

Vaako raised an eyebrow. He was beginning to see why Riddick had chosen this particular woman to be his personal servant. "How do you know this?"

"The Lord Marshal is not terribly fond of them but he has me include them in the bowl. Plus, my Lord, the proof is by your plate." And she pointed at the blue core from the fruit he had eaten early.

Riddick watched their interaction and would have patted himself on the back had he been prone to those type of things. He saw the moment that Vaako clearly understood that he was no longer impeded by the forced restrictions placed on his mind or body due to his continual purifications. That he was about as close to once again being a "breeder" as he was going to be. Riddick nodded to himself when Vaako finally understood that he was after something personal and it was not meant to be shared.

"You can go, Mina," Vaako said calmly. "I will endeavor to answer whatever question it is the Lord Marshal is after."

Mina nodded. "As you wish, my Lord."

When Mina was gone from the chambers and Vaako had finished the bite in his mouth he said, "She should not have left on my say."

Riddick grinned and carefully watched Vaako as he made his next statement. "I've told her and Pine that an order from you was to be treated as if it had come from me."

The astounded look on his First Among's face was worth it.

"I see. Thank you. Now what is it you were trying to get from her by asking about her name?"

"Just trying to figure out who you are Vaako."

"The middle son of a librarian and a park rover."

"Did the purifiers give you your name?"

"No. That only happens if a convert loses himself or herself after too many back-to-back purifications. The Purifiers asked me my name and I gave them my surname. I have simply been Vaako since then. No one has asked if I had a first name."

"I'm asking," Riddick said, his plate now empty.

"Garrett," Vaako said, "my parents named me Garrett." Vaako pushed the plate to the side before continuing. "If we're finished tripping down my memory lane would you care to explain to me what we're doing?"

Riddick moved his own plate and pressed several buttons on the table. As it shimmered into life he started to explain his plan.

After several minutes Vaako finally asked, "Do these run throughout the Basilica as well?

When Riddick grinned, Vaako had his answer.

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

After several weeks of using the hidden passageways on the various frigates and the Basilica, Vaako could move through them with an ease that almost matched Riddick's. At first the very low light levels had worried him, but after the first time through he'd found his eyes seemed to adjust automatically. And upon checking the files he had on the inhabitants of Acroba he'd found that his eyesight and hearing were both genetic markers of his planet.

He was finding it very useful now. Riddick's plan had been simple: Take out the pests and anyone who didn't stay out of their way. They started with targets on two of the frigates in the fleet. The Wake, which flew towards the end of the convoy, and the Judgment, which traveled in the center. Riddick had wanted to see what he could stir up by taking a visible role in the removal of threats to his command.

The Wake had been first. It was mostly a troop and civilian ship whose population was still largely in cryosleep. The ship itself had about a hundred or so ranked nobles and only a few of them were of real importance. The targets on the Wake had mostly been low rank military and three boisterous nobles trying to lead them.

Vaako had watched Riddick take out the three nobles who were primarily responsible for the growing disregard for the new Lord Marshal among the rank and file. Their lives had ended in a busy center chamber where one minute they were discussing plans for taking over one of the other frigates and the next they had suddenly been staring at the Lord Marshal. The nobles hadn't put up much of a fight and once they were dead on the floor the people with them had fled in all directions.

The few personal guards that had remained put up a decent fight but had been quickly dispatched by him and Riddick. The Furyan had laughed, and as they moved through the passageways to the next round of targets, Riddick had told him of a game he and Jack had played called "who's the better killer."

At current count, Riddick was ahead of him by four.

The news of the attack on the Wake had barely reached the Judgment when they boarded her three days later. Most had taken it as a rumor as no one had seen the Lord Marshal leave the Basilica or board the Wake. The same would be true for the Judgment.

After boarding the frigate they spent two days moving through the passageways collecting intel before taking any type of action. Riddick was a little like a cat, Vaako thought, playing with the pests before killing them and tossing them away.

"You're having a lot of fun," he said after Riddick punched the button to open the airlock.

Riddick watched as the group of grunts were flushed from the ship. "Admit it," Riddick asked him, "so are you?"

Vaako walked to the adjacent wall and the panel that would give them admittance into the hidden passageways. "Perhaps," he said entering the tunnel. "Now, back down to the laundry or up to the gathering rooms?"

"Down," Riddick answered. "Less chest puffing and more actual fact."

"So I have noticed."

They spent half an hour listening to the people in the laundry talk before moving on towards their next attack location. They made a short stop at a small side chamber that was only accessible from within the hidden corridor. It was one of two areas they were using as bolt holes while on the Judgment. They'd had a similar setup on the Wake. Places they could rest, eat, take care of any injuries and talk without having to whisper. The chambers were about the size of a large closet with a wide bench that wrapped around the side and back walls and had a single dim light crystal very similar to the ones that lit sections of the passageways.

While on the Wake Vaako had asked Riddick if he had set up similar places on the Basilica. He hadn't expected the Furyan to answer, and had been surprised when Riddick had simply grunted a "yes" as if Vaako should have already known the answer to that question. Which he guessed he should have.

Vaako moved into the bolt hole and grabbed the bottle of water he'd left there that morning and then just barely caught the fruit Riddick tossed at him. He stared at the blue fruit for a second before speaking. "I've been meaning to ask," he said, taking a bite of the fruit as he sat down on the bench, "is this how you found Mina?"

"Nah," Riddick smirked, taking the water bottle from Vaako. "Found her in an empty hallway about two weeks after I got here quietly cursing the noble whose chamber she had just left. Seems I killed one of the people she had been placed with."

"She was upset with the death?"

Riddick quietly laughed. "No. I got the impression she didn't like him. That none of the servants did. It was more about the mess I left in the chambers that she was now responsible for cleaning."

"So she was cursing you," Vaako said smiling.

Riddick returned the smile. "Followed her for a couple of days. Watched her cook. Stole a couple of the things she made when she'd leave the kitchen on her level. She can definitely curse. Startled her one evening when she was alone in the kitchen. She nearly dropped the cobbler she had taken out of one of the ovens. She glared at me while politely asking if there was anything she could do for the new Lord Marshal. I offered the job to her if she promised not to throw the cobbler at me."

Vaako chuckled. After meeting Mina that day in Riddick's chambers he'd done a little research on her. She was just what she appeared to be, an excellent cook; though she had added keeping the Lord Marshal's chambers clean to the list of her duties. It meant Riddick only had to worry about a handful of people accessing his chambers.

He'd also discovered that only three of the dozen living chambers located on the L-shaped hallway that lead to the Lord Marshal's chambers now had residents. Vaako wished he could have seen the faces of the nobles who had been evicted from their chambers. The three closest chambers now belonged to Aereon, Mina, and Pine. He hadn't realized until then that Pine hadn't even lived on the Basilica before and that when Vaako would call for him he had to shuttle over from the Rage.

Vaako now knew that Riddick planned on leaving the center chambers down that hall empty, as well as the first chambers on either side at the start of the Lord Marshal's hall. The next two or three chambers down the hall were going to be housing for a half dozen soldiers that would work as a personal guard of sorts.

He tossed the core of the fruit into the small recycle bin at the rear of the chamber. "You find anyone for your guard yet?" he asked as they both started down the passageways again.

"Maybe," Riddick replied, peeking through one of the spy slots before moving on down the corridor. "Your Sergeant Maxer, and I think Specialist Dev from the Wake."

"They both have promise and will keep most nobles from wandering down the hall towards your chambers." Riddick tossed him a grin that he ignored to get back to the business at hand. "Do we know how many we will be up against this time?"

"More than last time."

Vaako quickly did the math. They'd flushed eight people out the airlock so he was betting at least a dozen. Maybe he could catch up with Riddick with this round of their game.

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

Riddick twisted his body to the left while bringing his right arm up and back so the knife he held in his hand was impaled into the chest of the man swinging the ax towards his head. The soldier dropped the ax and grabbed at his chest and the knife but it would do no good as Riddick's blade had punctured his heart.

Riddick let the momentum of his move lead him into his next attack and before he knew it only he and Vaako were still standing. "You okay?" he called out, having seen Vaako get rushed by four attackers.

"Fine," Vaako huffed out between breaths though the fact that his arm was bleeding from several slashes belied his answer. "Guess we should have expected they would keep a few in reserve."

"They're finally learning." Riddick stepped over a dead body and moved closer to Vaako, taking the other man's arm and gently twisting it to inspect the injury. Outside of this last minute effort by one of the sub-commanders on the Talon, the assaults on the Talon and the Rage had gone the same as the previous ones on the Wake and the Judgment. The rumors Riddick was a ghost that could appear without notice and leave a trail of dead bodies as he moved through a hallway was growing throughout the fleet. There were even rumors Riddick had used his powers on the First Among Commanders and Vaako was now more ghost than man.

"We need to have Pine start monitoring the secondary systems for sub-chatter and the ship-to-ship between the nobles," Vaako said, while trying to extract his arm from the Furyan's grasp. "I'm fine," he said through clenched teeth as Riddick pressed his fingers along one of the cuts. "I also think we should delay our assault on the Claw and return to the Judgment."

"Let's go." Riddick let go of Vaako's arm and moved to the panel that concealed the door to the hidden passageway.

At their bolt hole he watched as Vaako dropped down on the bench and stretched out his legs in front of him, tilting his head back to lean against the wall. Riddick grabbed one of their packs and then sat down next to Vaako. "Drink this," he ordered, thrusting a bottle of water into his partner's hand, "and give me your damn arm."

Vaako rolled his head slightly so he could glare at Riddick but said nothing.

Riddick cleaned the wound and then applied a liquid stitch that would seal it before wrapping it with a clean dressing. "Why back to Judgment?" he asked, almost positive he knew what was going on in Vaako's head, but it never hurt to ask.

"I know you like playing the uneducated convict but that no longer works on me," he heard Vaako complain and he could only snort in reply knowing that Vaako would still answer him. "But nonetheless the answer is simple: They won't be expecting it."

"Not to mention it will tick off Commander Toal."

"Yes," and this time Vaako did open his eyes to look at him. "There is that too. And by the way, I'm now up two."

Riddick laughed. "You could just kill Toal."

"Then I would be up three and as you are so fond of saying," Vaako said tossing the empty water bottle back into his bag, "Where's the fun in that?"

Riddick tilted his head coming to a conclusion he just realized. "You're poking at him to see where he will lead. You think someone else is pulling his strings?"

"Maybe," Vaako answered, gathering his bag and standing. "We have less than an hour to get home before we re-enter hyperspace and I'd rather not be stuck here when we do."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

They docked the small personal shuttle to a space dock connected to the hidden passageways. When Riddick had found the little ship it was clear no one had used it in at least twenty years. He'd run it through the auto-clean and inspection process and then flipped the controls so it was kept maintained and prepped for flight at all times. It was fueled by energy siphoned off supplies from the regular lines.

"Eventually," Vaako began as the airlock started to cycle, "you are going to have to bring Pine down here to update all the systems."

Riddick picked up his bag and sealed the hatch behind them. "You could do it."

He could feel Vaako following behind him and knew the man was formulating a response. "Not as efficiently or quickly as Pine," Vaako admitted. "He is very gifted where technology is concerned."

"I'll think about it."

"That is all I can ask."

Riddick pressed the control and a door that lead into the ante-chamber of the Lord Marshal's chambers slid open. He walked through the chambers and into his dining room where he tossed his bag on the table. "Speaking of Pine," he said, reaching into the ever-present bowl of fruit and withdrawing something that looked like a Helion Apple. "One of your grunts has been watching him closely."

Vaako placed his hands on the back of one of the chairs and leaned forward. "I did a little more research on Pine after you moved him to the Basilica. He had, has a lover on the Rage--one of the Flight Wing sub-commanders."

"If Pine is still involved with this person, have him transferred here, but find out who's following our little tech around."

Vaako nodded. "If that's all, I'm going to my quarters to shower and rest."

Riddick walked past Vaako knowing Vaako would follow since he hadn't exactly been dismissed yet and Vaako was still stuck on some things. He stripped off the light armor they both wore and then the thin shirt that protected his skin. "What we need is a fast way to clean up one of the frigates," he said while watching Vaako's reaction to him undressing.

"We could just blow it up," Vaako joked.

He grinned. "Now that has real potential."

Riddick felt Vaako grab his arm and he let the other man spin him around so they could stand facing each other. "I was joking," Vaako said. "We can't blow up one of the frigates."

"It's a good idea," the Furyan said, lifting his hand to run his fingers down Vaako's worried face. "I'd let you shuffle people around first."

"Riddick."

Riddick ignored the warning tone in Vaako's voice. Instead he reached back and wrapped his fingers in Vaako's hair and quickly brought their lips together. There was more than one way to table a discussion until later. For a second Vaako did nothing and then Riddick felt the other man relax against him and the kiss deepened.

After a few seconds Vaako broke the kiss and asked, "What do you want from me, Riddick?"

"I want all of you, Garrett."

"Then all of me you shall have."

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

Vaako realized if he continued to share a bed with Riddick that he would never feel a night chill again as the Furyan's core body temperature was several degrees higher than his own.

"Go back to sleep," Riddick's voice was husky in his ear.

Vaako sighed softly, his mind wanted answers but his body was already relaxing back against the warm presence behind him. He just wasn't sure how he had ended up in the Lord Marshal's bed. Oh, he remembered the last few days. He was just trying to pinpoint the exact moment that may have lead him and Riddick to becoming lovers. When had he become Riddick's partner? After he killed his wife? Before the first assault on the frigates? Did it matter? Maybe it didn't matter.

He had found Riddick's body, even for a breeder, pleasantly appealing long before the Furyan had become Lord Marshal. And he knew those shining silver eyes--he found so intriguing--hid an intelligence Riddick liked to keep buried.

When Riddick had first kissed him he had done nothing. Just stood there not knowing what to do. He'd finally just given in and returned the kiss knowing the worst thing Riddick could do was kill him.

The kiss...

Riddick didn't do anything by halves. Before Vaako had completely realized what was happening, he had been stripped and pushed against the bedroom wall where Riddick could explore his body. He knew Riddick's senses were sharper than his and now he knew how it felt to be the sole focus of them. It was like Riddick was cataloging him with touch, taste, sound, and scent.

Vaako tried twice to participate only to have Riddick growl at him. If he pushed against Riddick, Riddick would push back grinding their lower bodies together. He'd let a low moan escape the second time and Riddick had repeated the motion trying to get him to make that sound again. He had, just barely kept it to himself which only seemed to spur the Furyan to repeat the action again until he made the sound much louder.

"I want a shower," he finally breathed, twisting away from Riddick and walking into the bathing chamber. Vaako hadn't wanted to stop, but the blood and dirt that had soaked through his armor and clothes itched, and while Riddick might be able to ignore it, he wasn't going to, not with a shower just a few feet away.

Vaako pushed several buttons on the shower control to set water temperature and pressure before pressing the toggle that would turn the system on. As he stepped under the spray he felt Riddick's fingers ghost across his left shoulder and down part of his back following the black lines and whorls that made up the tattoo he had gotten the summer before Acroba fell to the Necromongers. Soon Riddick's lips and tongue followed the same path before the Furyan circled around and they were once again face-to-face.

This time Vaako backed Riddick into the shower wall so he could make his own exploration of the Furyan's body. He kissed Riddick's lips before moving to the juncture between the neck and shoulder. He moved to brush his lips down the strong, damp chest only stopping to swipe his tongue first across the barely there almost hand-shaped mark, then moving to an old scar just below Riddick's third rib before kneeling to do the same on a series of scars on the right hipbone.

Vaako ran his hands down Riddick's sides, over hipbones, and gently squeezing the cheeks of Riddick's ass before running his hands further down the strong thighs to his knees. When he started to bring his hands back up the sides of Riddick's legs he used his tongue to tease at Riddick's cock. When Riddick's grunt turned into a low moan Vaako increased his efforts by slowly swirling his tongue around the thick cock before taking it into his mouth.

Riddick's fingers carded through his hair before gingerly grasping his head and pulling him upright for a kiss. Riddick used this as a distraction and Vaako once again found himself with his back pushed against a wall and Riddick's mouth attacking his. This time his hands gripped Riddick's hips and they ground their lower bodies together until they were both coming.

The shower only lasted a few minutes after that and then they were in Riddick's large bed and starting over. The next few days had really been just about the two of them--food, sleep, sex, and Riddick's plans and his role in it all.

Vaako remembered there were hand imprints on his hips from a round of rather fast and rough sex that morning. His fingers ran lightly over the bite mark Riddick had left on his shoulder the night before.

"I said," Riddick's arm tightened around his waist and his voice was warm against his neck. "Sleep," Riddick said, lapping at the bite mark.

"That is not the way to get me to go back to sleep."

"Stop thinking."

Vaako turned so that he laid facing Riddick before speaking. "Never again," he swore, lifting his fingers to run down Riddick's face. "Not even for you."

Vaako rolled to sit on the edge of the bed but before he could get up he was stopped as strong arms wrapped around him. He heard Riddick growl lightly before he felt the man's lips kiss the bite mark. "You are mine, Garrett Vaako," Riddick's voice was no longer husky with sleep, nor was it upset. "And right now you need sleep because we're just getting started."

Vaako sighed. He knew Riddick was right, but he couldn't stop. He heard Riddick chuckle and he turned to look into those shining silver eyes.

"You really can't stop, can you?" The laughter clearly evident in Riddick's voice even though his face betrayed nothing.

Vaako sighed again. "Apparently not."

"I know of a way and then we can both sleep afterwards."

Vaako twisted further around on the bed. "Do you now?"

Riddick's lecherous grin was his only warning before he was pulled further back onto the bed and Riddick's body was covering his. Vaako's mind narrowed to focus on the matter at hand.

After his climax and before he fully dropped off into sleep, Vaako had one last thought that caused him to smile. Perhaps Riddick was right.

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

Riddick never needed an alarm to wake. He had an internal clock that was better than any piece of tech he'd ever seen and he'd relied on it his entire life--even when he was injured. This morning was no different. He woke and almost followed his normal routine to get out of bed; instead he shifted so he could look at his bed partner. Vaako's long black hair was swept back away from his face and neck leaving Riddick a clear view of the bite mark he left there the night before. Riddick let a small smirk play across his lips at the sight.

For the last several nights he had slept quite well; and probably more soundly than he had since before he entered his first slam. His eyes once again shifted to Vaako who was slowly edging his way to consciousness. A thin sheet covered Vaako from toe to just below the one visible hipbone. Riddick reached to run his hand across the pale skin but was stopped by a soft, sleep-roughened voice.

"No time for whatever you are thinking."

"And how do you know what I am thinking?" Riddick's voice said he was clearly amused and he reached out anyway.

Riddick watched as Vaako slit his eyes open but he wasn't quite prepared for his partner's next move and quickly found himself lying on his back with Vaako straddling his waist. He grinned up at the other man. "This is good too," he said, his hands coming to rest on Vaako's thighs.

Vaako grinned down at him. "I'm sure it is," Vaako said dryly while shifting slightly and Riddick moaned in appreciation of the friction his lover had just created.

He let his hands roam loosely up and around Vaako's chest until the other man leaned down to kiss him before rolling off him and the bed with a smirk. "We'll have to finish that later."

Riddick growled and sprung from the bed to follow Vaako into the shower. "I say we finish it now."

He wrapped his arms around Vaako's waist before licking the bite mark. When Vaako tilted his head, giving him more access, Riddick began sucking on the mark.

"Riddick." Vaako's use of his name might have been a curse but it slowly ended in a moan.

"Yes?" Riddick asked, moving his hands to glide up Vaako's chest as the warm water rolled down it.

"Your Air Elemental will be here soon. She's always prompt." Vaako shivered against him and his voice was huskier when he spoke again. "And I need to find out who's following Pine."

Riddick ignored the comment with an "uh huh" and moved his hands down the front of Vaako's body until Vaako relaxed against him and dropped his head onto Riddick's shoulder.

"You were saying?" Riddick asked, turning Vaako to face him so he could card one hand through the long black hair. Tugging slightly, Riddick got better access to Vaako's mouth when the man tilted his head to the side.

"Forget it," Vaako said, lifting his hands to Riddick's face to bring their mouths together.

Riddick smiled into the kiss. He stepped closer to Vaako, inching the other man's legs apart until Vaako used the wall to brace himself and lifted his right leg to rest on Riddick's calf.

One of Riddick's hands settled underneath Vaako's upper right thigh while the other was braced against the wall. From their new positions it was a matter of moments before they were both coming and then Riddick slowly released Vaako with another long kiss.

"Perfect use of our morning shower time," Riddick said, stepping under one of the sprays.

He grinned as he watched Vaako shake his head and step under another spray.

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

Vaako looked at the display the table was showing to find Riddick's Elemental standing there looking a little impatient. "Are you going to let her in?"

He saw Riddick shrug and continue eating the food Mina had stored in the units in their kitchen before they'd gone to the Talon. If he wanted to be honest, this morning's pickings were a little slim. "Are you going to grant Pine and Mina access to your chambers so neither of us need to be here when they are?"

Vaako looked over at Riddick expecting an answer this time; instead he got a question. "Do you trust them?"

"To do their jobs and not try to assassinate either of us? Yes." Vaako paused to quickly order his thoughts, needing to make sure he was clear about what was next. "There is the chance their free admittance will be used against them and us. They are already targets and someone could easily rush them in the hall once they have opened your chamber door. But I do not believe they would willingly open the door."

Riddick grunted and waved his fork in Vaako's general direction. "Give them access to our chambers," Riddick waited for him to acknowledge the "our" before he continued. "Move Maxer and Dev into the chambers at the start of the hall." Riddick pushed his plate away and refilled his mug. "We'll need to narrow the list for the rest of the guard so those two have a relief. Pine's deep background searches have been very useful so far. See if he can find anything else. And while you are talking to him, find out if he still wants the flight commander."

"Gage," Vaako interrupted. "Flight Sub Commander Gage. I looked up his record. He was a military pilot with ground combat experience before being converted. He and Pine have been sharing chambers for almost five years. And, Pine has shuttled back to the Rage to see him several times since being moved to the Basilica as Gage does not have free access to travel between ships."

"I trust you will make the right call," Riddick said.

The door chimed again and Vaako glanced over at the image that hovered just over the table. "She seems to be getting antsy," he commented.

Riddick grinned. "I know."

Vaako stood from the table. "I'm going to leave you to your fun then."

Riddick just grinned again, "Send her in as you leave."

Vaako rolled his eyes but said nothing. He stepped to the door and palmed it open, stepping back and to the side to let the Elemental through. She only spared him a glance before moving into the dining room. The last thing he heard before stepping out into the hall was her soft complaints of Riddick's time skills and Riddick's clear response.

"Lady, you do remember that I am Lord Marshal?"

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Vaako shook his head again and walked down the hallway to Pine's chamber. Riddick found the Elemental amusing but was a little dubious of her full intentions--after all, her premonitions had caused the purposeful extinction of an entire race of people--the Furyans just to try and bring an end to another--the Necromongers. Vaako was even less likely to believe anything that came out of her mouth without it being verified first.

He palmed the door signal on Pine's chamber and the door almost immediately opened for him. Vaako knew the four private chambers closest to the Lord Marshal's consisted of a sleeping, bathing, small sitting chamber, and a tiny open work area that was connected to the sitting chamber. Pine's work area was covered in systems, wall monitors and parts for various tech found on all the frigates. The tech was trying to inch its way into the sitting chamber but it was like Pine was in the practice of keeping his stuff contained to one area.

"My Lord," Pine said, trying to stand while keeping the open handheld tablet and its pieces on the table in front of him.

Vaako waved him off. "Sit," he told the tech, taking the only other chair in the little area not being used to hold equipment. "The scans and searches you did were very useful. The Lord Marshal wants you to go even deeper on the list I sent this morning."

Pine shifted the broken tablet to the floor and began typing and a monitor on the wall sprang to life. "Is he looking for anything particular that I could use to parse the search with?"

"No," Vaako answered. "He wants it all."

Pine nodded and then handed him a handheld tablet from a pile sitting on the edge of the table. "This is that other search you requested and all the information I was able to obtain without touching the Lord Marshal's system."

Vaako accepted the tablet telling Pine he would finish the cross-references. "Tell me about Gage, Pine."

Pine stopped typing and looked up. His expression was clearly distressed. "I...umm..."

"Is he your lover?" Vaako asked trying to put Pine at ease but the question seemed to have the opposite effect. "Just relax and answer the question, Pine. Is he your lover? Is he forcing you? Or is he just protection against nobles or troops?"

"He's my lover," Pine stated quietly, fiddling with one of the spare parts in front of him. "Are we in trouble, My Lord? My status is not..."

Vaako watched Pine very closely finally realizing what Pine was afraid of. It was very rare for a ranked military officer to have a regular, if not permanent, lover from the working class. Most officers, and until Riddick had come along he would have been included, chose to take a noble as a lover in hopes of increasing both their standings.

"No, you are not in trouble," he said smiling as he had a thought. "You are the Lord Marshal's personal tech, Pine, you can sleep with a lowly sub commander if you so choose."

"He's not," Pine started to protest and then stopped. "Oh."

Vaako grinned. "Good. I will give the order for our new Commander to be transferred to the Basilica. Now, will he be sharing your chambers or should I find him a place on the troop level?"

Pine looked around his chambers and Vaako watched his reactions again knowing the two had been sharing the small chambers a sub commander were issued.

"Sharing," Pine answered.

Vaako stood taking the handheld Pine had given him earlier and started to walk towards the door. "Good. You can take the next shuttle over and help him pack your old chambers. Just finish the scans and searches by tomorrow morning."

"Yes, My Lord."

"One more thing," Vaako said seriously, turning to look at the tech. "The Lord Marshal has granted you access to his chambers. You can come and go when you need--do signal before just walking in, but Commander Gage will need to remain in the sitting area when he accompanies you if we're not in the chambers."

Pine was just nodding as if he didn't know what to say.

"We've also released two higher levels of the knowledge and communication systems to you."

Pine's head turned so quickly to look at the monitors that Vaako laughed. "To the Rage, Pine, the access will still be there when you return."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Vaako left Pine's chambers and walked down the hallway to one of the hidden passageways access points. This was going to give him the perfect opportunity to see who was following their tech. There were really only three possibilities: another tech wanting the job, someone wanting to force Pine to work against the Lord Marshal, or someone Gage trusted enough to keep his lover safe. And only the last had a chance of coming out of this alive.

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

Riddick's time with Aereon was, as always, as brief as he could make it. While Riddick found her amusing, he could only take so much of her calculations and lack of willingness to share what she knew before he felt the growing need to see just how long she could stay in her Elemental form. The brief conversations insured he never actually tested that action so Aereon always left alive.

He didn't even look up from the scans he was reading when the main chamber door opened without chiming. Instead he waited a moment and then asked, "How'd it go?"

Vaako didn't answer right away, just yanked out the chair he normally sat in and finished off the drink from Riddick's cup

Riddick raised an eyebrow. "That well?" he asked and then turned serious. "Is my little tech still alive?"

"Pine is fine," Vaako answered before getting up and going into the kitchen. He returned with a small bowl of the cobbler that Mina always seemed to leave in either the warmer or chiller for him. "Ecstatic would probably be a better description."

"With his access, or with bringing his flight commander, who you seem to have promoted, to the Basilica?"

Riddick noticed that Vaako waved his spoon at the promotion issue and took another bite before answering. "Formality. Plus, he was actually due the promotion. And Pine is happy on all counts."

The Furyan reached out and grabbed Vaako's hand before the spoon could go into the bowl again. "Then what is the problem?" he asked, letting go of the hand as Vaako sighed.

"I took a page out of your book and flushed someone out an airlock," Vaako said a little disgustedly.

Riddick laughed.

"So about Crematoria?" Vaako tried to change the subject. "Did you get the information I sent to you?"

"Yes," Riddick answered, glaring at his partner. "And we'll get to that in a moment. Now tell me what has you in a snit."

"Snit?"

Riddick growled and then watched as Vaako closed his eyes to organize his thoughts. Obviously Vaako's morning and afternoon had been more fun than his had been.

"It seems there were a couple of people following Pine," Vaako answered. "And Mina. If I had to guess Aereon too, though I have not verified that one."

"I would be surprised if there wasn't," Riddick commented. "But the breezy old broad is harder to kill than one would think."

Vaako snorted. "I followed Pine to the docking bay," he started to explain. The passageways were really good for following people, especially if they were going to heavily used sections of the ship. "He picked up a shadow as soon as he left this level. Then picked up a second two levels from the docking bay. Both boarded the transport ship after him. I backtracked from there to our ship and still arrived on the Rage before they did. Pine's first shadow works for Commander Gage."

Riddick nodded. It was good to know that this Gage really did seem to care for Pine. It would have been a shame to get him over here just to have to kill him. "Are you going to add this shadow to the list of guard suggestions?"

"Specialist Thesa would be an interesting choice, but a good fit for that."

"A woman?" Riddick asked, rethinking the life expectancy of Gage.

Vaako nodded. "Yes. She was trained in planetary police skills before being converted. And no," Vaako said, as if he knew where Riddick's thoughts might have been headed. "She is not involved with either Commander Gage or Pine."

"And you know this how?"

"I might have cornered her and asked," Vaako replied. He explained he had seen her follow Pine across the flight deck and to the fighter that Gage was standing next to. They had nodded at each other and she had kept moving through the bay to another exit. "I startled her in an empty corridor and if her reflexes or mine were not as good as they are I might be sporting a knife wound to my shoulder."

Riddick touched several buttons on the table and a file popped open in front of them. He gave the information a quick scan. "Interesting. Add her to the scans Pine is running. If she passes make sure she knows she's to keep both Pine and Mina safe."

He stretched his legs out and leaned back in his chair before once again asking, "Now, about the guy you airlocked?"

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

Vaako sighed. Riddick could be one tenacious son of a bitch when he wanted to be. "The other shadow was Sergeant Olen whose allegiance is to Commander Toal."

"He the one you airlocked?"

He glared at Riddick, but shook his head. "No, he's still alive for now."

Vaako had started the day with a plan and then had apparently tossed it out an airlock because the action had made him feel better. He was starting to understand Riddick more and more and it no longer bothered him that they were beginning to share some quirks.

"I wanted to see who else he would lead me too and I didn't want Toal to think he'd been discovered yet. I want to know how far Toal's reach is," Vaako said, reaching for the pitcher and the empty mug.

"That is my mug, you know," Riddick stated.

Vaako grinned at his partner before refilling the mug and taking a drink from it. "I know," he said, sliding the mug across the table.

"I have Pine running data and communication scans on both Toal and Olen to see what and whom he can find," Vaako continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Toal has never been good at political maneuvering so either he's teamed up with someone who is or someone is just pulling his strings for his," he paused, thinking about the Lord Marshal's council and the people who were no longer sitting on it, "or her own needs."

"You know who it is?" Riddick questioned.

"No, but I wouldn't put it past Lady Cana to have several schemes against you and your throne. You did draw her blood and then removed her from your council."

Riddick shrugged. "I also had her forcefully removed from the Grand Hall the day I found her laying half dressed and draped over the throne."

Vaako raised one of his eyebrows, but said nothing. He thought that had just been a rumor; guess not. He added her name to the list to send to Pine. He would wait to send the list for a few hours to give Pine a little time to get Gage settled on the Basilica; plus he was sure he would be adding another name or two in the next hour.

"When I returned I took the passageway past Mina's chambers."

Riddick gave him a soft chuckle and asked. "And what are we having for dinner?"

"She was not in her kitchen so I went down to the hydro-levels."

"I am not going to like what you are about to tell me, am I?" Riddick's voice was at the stage that Vaako knew meant he was about to be beyond pissed.

"Probably not, but I handled the situation," Vaako insisted. "Hopefully without tipping our hand."

"Spit it out," Riddick's growled.

Vaako held up his hand, stalling Riddick from make any type of move. "Mina is fine. She is currently back in her chambers taking her frustrations out on our dinner which might be a few minutes late. Also, she carries a very sharp knife on her person."

He noticed Riddick had begun to relax which didn't mean he wouldn't later go and find someone that needed killing; it just wouldn't be at this moment.

Riddick made a go ahead and finish motion.

"I found her picking fruit directly from the trees and vines which really seems to upset the keepers down there," Vaako shrugged at that, but a small smile played at lips. "I spotted her shadow when she left that section. I followed them through the granary and the meats warehouse. And then she started her journey back to this level. The recently ex-Sergeant Farlin grabbed her four levels down and dragged her into one of the side alcoves, blocking her in so she couldn't escape. I had to come out of the passageways a section behind them but it was fairly easy to find them as she had dropped that basket she always has and the fruit seemed to roll after her."

Vaako grimaced when the cup they had been sharing shattered in Riddick's hand. "You're cleaning that up," he said indicating the ceramic shards and drink that had splashed on the table. "She's already had an unpleasant day as it is."

Riddick took the empty cobbler bowl and swept his mess into it. "Finish it," he growled.

"By the cuts on her cheek and arms, most likely caused by Farlin's armored gloves, she'd obviously struggled with him before he shoved her into the wall. From the small part of the conversation I heard he wanted her to poison us. And you're right about her ability to curse. Farlin backhanded her for mouthing off at him and not remembering her place."

Vaako had been ready to snap Farlin's head from his shoulders at that moment but he couldn't risk it while Farlin still had his gloved hand on Mina. One wrong move and the edges on the gloves could cut through Mina's skin and possibly all the way to the bone.

"When she stumbled Farlin grabbed at her arm and then he was the one stumbling backwards. She'd sliced the underside of his arm open with the knife she carries. The rest I handled," Vaako finished. "Farlin was still screaming when I released the airlock and Lady Cana is now out a follower."

He'd called Sergeant Maxer and had him assist Mina in gathering the lost fruit, escorting her to the closest medical chamber and then to her chambers while he dealt with the soon to be dead man.

Farlin had tried to charge him but Vaako had just raised one of the many knives he carried and let the man impale himself on it. The blade had easily gone through the armor and into one of the sergeant's lungs. From there, the promise of medical attention and that he wouldn't inform the Lord Marshal of the attack on his personal servant had gotten Vaako the information he needed. Farlin should have realized that the closest medical chamber had been in the opposite direction Vaako had been walking him in and that Vaako could be just as dangerous as the Lord Marshal.

"Change of plans," Riddick's voice brought him back to the present. "If your Specialist Thesa passes the scans, assign her to watch Mina."

Vaako nodded. He knew Thesa would pass the scans as Gage didn't seem to be one to risk Pine's life with a person that could be bought off. Plus her past training would come in handy for what was needed. "Thesa is very good at blending into her surroundings. It will look less obvious if Mina is accompanied by someone who looks like she's another servant. And, I'm sure Commander Gage will have no problem tagging along with Pine for a while."

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

Riddick scanned through the latest data. "So, they're back in business?" He gave a small shrug. "Figured as much."

He knew unless the slam had been completely destroyed someone else would step in and take over management. Maybe even some lucky inmate or convict had found a measure of freedom by doing so. The scans showed that in the six months since he had escaped from Crematoria the population of the triple max slam had almost doubled. No doubt the new management was making sure the mercs took the money that was offered.

"This engagement is going to have to be timed perfectly," Vaako commented. "If the troops and inmates," he corrected, "new converts are not aboard the skiff by the time the sun's rays hit the loading dock..."

"They're dead," Riddick finished. He knew the drastic temperature change between the dayside and night-side of the planet only gave two very brief windows of time where life could exist on the surface without either frying or freezing almost instantly.

The troop transports could handle the extreme cold much better than the heat so the plan was to take the slam during the middle of the night and be gone before dawn. And when he was once again aboard the Basilica the slam would never see another day of business.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

The taking of Crematoria had actually gone reasonably well. Riddick and Vaako had worked on a plan that would keep the soldiers that were not in cryosleep occupied. The first part of the plan had allowed the dozens of pilots a chance to go on strafing runs on the planet, as well as fly between the tight crevices and twists and turns in the planet's rock walls that were created due to the planet's extreme temperatures. The changes in air pressure would challenge the pilots' abilities and be a good source of training.

The ground troops had been handpicked for the assignment meaning almost all of them didn't want to disappoint either the Lord Marshal or their First Among. The almost four dozen troops and two lensors were marching around Riddick and Vaako and the two field techs. Only half the soldiers would actually enter the prison, as the rest were to take up patrolling the tracks and entranceway.

The new management had apparently learned a lesson about keeping the skiff at either end of the 29.4 kilometer track and now kept it parked about 10 kilos from the actual prison entrance. "Someone's learning," Riddick commented as he and Vaako passed the skiff and the two cameras that monitored the section of the tunnel. He gave the camera a small wave and glanced over at Vaako just in time to see his partner roll his eyes.

When Riddick rounded the final bend he could see the front portion of his soldiers had all raised their guns at the woman who was standing on the platform with her arms crossed. A single command from Vaako had them all aiming their weapons at the ground.

Riddick thought Eve Logan hadn't changed much. The communication signals Pine had been able to process had clearly shown she had lived through his escape and her time with Toombs. Logan was leaning against the wall next to the closed entrance door, her gun still in its thigh holster. She straightened, ignoring the army in front of her when he was within a few feet of the platform. "Toombs really should have taken the money," she said, lightly; her pale blue eyes staring directly at him.

Riddick snorted. "Said as much. You in charge now?" Riddick asked, stepping onto the platform with Vaako at his back.

Eve shrugged. "Seemed better than chasing the galaxy for people like," she paused, "for bounties," she finished. "What do you want Riddick?"

"Is Toombs around?" Riddick asked.

"Down in the cages where you left him," she answered. "Tried letting him out once or twice but it just wasn't good for business."

Riddick laughed. "I'm here to pick up a few things and then close this slam permanently."

Eve tilted her head slightly and let her eyes scan the area quickly. "This part of that comet army?" she said obviously remembering the uniforms from when they'd been on Helion Prime, "They yours now?"

"Yeah," he answered, stepping around her to look at the door's locking mechanism.

Eve frowned. "Figures," she said, blowing out a breath that pushed the hair away from her forehead. "What's in it for me?"

"Besides your life?" Vaako questioned.

Riddick watched as Eve shifted slightly to the left to keep both he and Vaako in her sight. If he didn't have to kill her and she made it through the new purification process, Riddick had plans for the woman. He knew Eve was tougher than her outward appearance presented so he had hopes this would end the way he wanted. Of the people in both of Toombs' crews she was the one he had marked as being dangerous. He made a move as if to take her down and she just as quickly made hers. Pulling two guns--one from the thigh holster and one from a back holster and aiming them at both he and Vaako. The position left her body open to the army below but her aim was at their heads, and if either he or Vaako were normal soldiers, at least one of them would easily be dead if she fired. But Riddick was that much faster and soon had both of Eve's guns in his hands.

"I told you she was good," he commented, looking over at Vaako.

Vaako inclined his head, not hiding the grin. "My apologies for doubting you my Lord."

Riddick inspected the guns. "Nice weaponry," he said tossing the guns back to Eve. "Let us in and I'll make you an offer you can't refuse. Don't and I'll still get in and you'll be dead."

Logan keyed opened the door, Vaako gave a hand signal and the ground troops began their sweep of the prison, bringing the inmates to the large center cavern. Not all the inmates came out of hiding willingly and several small fights broke out. Most fights ended with the inmate still being dragged out into the cavern. Two ended with the deaths of inmates and one ended with the death of a soldier. There were wounded on both sides of the takeover.

Riddick and Vaako stood on the highest overhang and looked down over it all. "How many are here?" Riddick asked Logan when she came to stand near him.

"Sixty-three including the guards, Toombs, and myself," Eve answered.

Vaako snorted. "Sixty-one now, and if those three," Vaako pointed to where his soldiers were dropping the wounded, "don't make it, fifty-eight. Minus Toombs, fifty-seven."

Riddick gave a small shrug of indifference while also giving Vaako a very amused grin for already removing Toombs from the equation. "But at least the soldiers are having fun. Now Eve, are the hounds in the cages?"

"Yeah," she answered. "Five including Toombs."

Riddick laughed as he turned on his heel and headed towards the cages.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick knelt in front of Toombs' cage and grinned as the other man said, "I should have taken the money."

"Vaako," Riddick began, "help Eve here roll out the cages with my hounds while I take care of Toombs. Dev," he added, spotting his personal guard for this trip, "grab a cage."

"As you wish, my Lord."

Vaako released the wheels on one of the cages and gave it a small push before turning to Riddick. "If these things eat any of our staff," Vaako warned.

Riddick stood and went over to the cage Vaako had moved and released the hellhound. He knelt in front of the hound and looked it directly in its shined eyes with his own. He ran his hand down the hound's muzzle and scratched behind its ears before patting it on the back. The hound purred and changed colors. "Trust me?" He looked up at Vaako.

"Always," Vaako answered.

"Come here," Riddick ordered.

Vaako knelt next to Riddick and let Riddick take his hand and guide it through the same motions. The hound sniffed at Vaako and then began to purr again until Eve and Dev re-entered the chamber then it stood and began to growl.

"Oh shut up," Eve said, and Riddick was only slightly surprised when the hound followed her order. "That's Gruff," she said. "He follows most orders."

Riddick and Vaako stood and Riddick gave his head a little tilt and Vaako nodded. "Come along, Gruff," he heard Vaako say to the hound and watched as the hound sniffed at Vaako's lowered hand and then stayed at the other man's side.

When the room was empty, Riddick turned to Toombs. "I'm going to let you out of this cage," he said, unlocking the door and stepping back to let the merc crawl out of the cage. "And give you a head start. You better run like your life depends on it," he gave a little chuckle, "because it does."

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

Crematoria had been cleansed and the remains of the slam were nothing but rubble. If Vaako had done his math correctly, the planet would reclaim the area with its drastic temperature changes in another two to three weeks and you'd never know there had been a building there.

The last four weeks had been rather calm as he and Riddick planned for the fleet's landing on Hades. They'd only made runs against two of the other Frigates. The return to the Judgment to annoy Commander Toal had produced the desired communication traffic between him and his puppet master. They'd also boarded the Frigate Saber, which they hadn't bothered with before but as half that ship was now awake from cryosleep it was good to remind people that Riddick was the Lord Marshal.

The Saber had also provided them with Corporal Bazen who after being cleared by the scans from Pine had been offered a position on the Lord Marshal's guard. He was teamed with Specialist Dev and they were both often assigned to watch over Aereon as she flitted around the Basilica.

Of the fifty-eight new converts that came aboard on Crematoria, forty-four had survived the purification process. Forty-three were still in the purification chambers but as promised, Riddick had pulled Eve Logan out of the chamber after her first processing. At first, Vaako hadn't been sure what to make of Eve, but after seeing her in action and pairing her to work with Thesa he finally understood why Riddick hadn't wanted her part of the what the Furyan still called the zombie hoard and she had rounded out their personal guard.

The hellhounds, for the most part, had settled into their new environment. They still liked to growl and chase people they didn't like but they hadn't killed anyone since the warrior who had made a poor excuse for an assassination attempt on the Lord Marshal while Riddick had been standing in the wide open area of the entrance chamber.

Vaako glanced down at the hellhound, Storm, which seemed to have attached herself to him. She was softly snoring while he worked at the private computer console. He'd done a lot of reading on the origin of the hellhounds. They were from a mining planetary system and had evolved naturally into what they were. Their eyes and armor-like skin were to protect them from falling debris while digging in dark tunnels. They were highly intelligent animals that could be trained. It seemed Eve had also done research where none of the slam's previous managers had and had started training them for use as guards and deterrents against both the inmates and the mercs that dropped them off.

The first time Mina had encountered one of the hounds she'd turned to look at both him and Riddick and had politely informed them that she was not cleaning up after them. Whenever Mina was in the Lord Marshal's kitchen all four hounds could also be found sitting patiently in there hoping Mina would drop something on the floor.

Riddick's idea of making sure the hellhounds would be cleaned up after was having an engineer build something like a giant dog playpen with running water, air scrubbers, sand to dig in and stone walls that could be climbed. He'd had two of them built. The smaller was located in their chambers where one of the empty bedrooms had been repurposed.

The hellhounds had figured out how to open doors to leave a room or a chamber but could not access the control panel to re-enter them. After two such incidents a larger, and now more used pen was constructed down the hall in one of the chambers between the Lord Marshal's private chambers and the chambers that had been assigned to their personal guard. The entire chamber had been gutted and redesigned for its new use and included caves and ledges that the smaller version did not have. The engineer and workers who had worked on the project had been granted a raise for pleasing the Lord Marshal.

Storm stood up and stretched before ambling out of the study. Vaako took that as a hint and did the same thing following the animal into the kitchen where Mina had just begun prepping food for the evening meal. He heard her sigh but saw her toss something on the floor with a quite "go away there's no more for now." Storm took her treat and retreated to the dining room. Vaako snorted at Storm's behavior but said nothing.

Sergeant Maxer, wearing the light armor that all the personal guard now wore as it gave them the ability to move faster in tight quarters was sitting quietly on a stool in the corner of the kitchen. "Max," he acknowledged. "You are on duty today?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"He's hoping to get fed too," Mina added.

"Yes, ma'am," Maxer confessed.

"Thesa and Eve are...?" Vaako inquired while leaning against the doorframe watching Mina quickly slice through the vegetables on the countertop.

"With the Lord Marshal, sir," Max answered. "They have taken two of the hounds for a stroll. It is what the Lord Marshal called it."

Vaako gave Max a small nod knowing this meant Riddick had taken the hounds out to scare a few nobles. "And Merc?" Vaako asked. He still smiled to himself over that name. Quite possibly because he had not hid his laugh to Riddick's reaction when the Furyan had been told the fourth hellhound's name.

"I believe he is with the Commander and Pine, sir. And they have gone down to one of the tech levels to retrieve parts for whatever Pine is building now."

Vaako nodded. Merc had taken an instant liking to Pine. Pine had not even noticed the hounds and if Gage had not steered Pine around the sleeping hounds he would have run right into them. The fact the hound followed Pine around like a puppy had simply added to his security.

There had been an attempt on Pine's life just a week ago. An ambush of four people had tried to attack Gage and Pine in one of the halls near the Throne Room. Gage had pushed Pine into one of small side alcoves and Merc had stood guard at the entrance keeping the attackers back. The only one to attempt to get past the hound quickly lost his leg and then his life as Gage snapped his neck. Two others lost their lives in quick succession as Gage proved he was more than just a pilot.

The last attacker had tried to run but Gage had done a lot of damage to the grunt's body so that the man could barely walk. Gage made the man all but crawl into the Necropolis and to the dais where Riddick was sitting. Vaako remembered that Riddick had taken one look at Gage's bloody clothes and the distressed look on Pine's face and had risen from the throne. Riddick's expression dared any of the nobles in the Necropolis to speak.

"This would be?" Riddick had asked way calmer than Vaako knew the man to be; or for that matter way calmer than he himself was. He could clearly see that Pine was not sure what was going on and Vaako wasn't sure how much longer the tech would be on his feet. Pine was holding the data pad he was never without in one hand but the other was stroking Merc's ear and neck where the hellhound was standing at attention next to him.

"A present, my Lord," Gage had answered. "There would have been more but I'm afraid the hound and I have made a mess in your halls."

Vaako had moved from his position next to the Lord Marshal and descended the dais to yank the dying man's head up. "Who are you loyal to?" he asked.

"The Lord Marshal," the man had tried to answer, but Vaako transferred his grip to the man's throat and said, "Try again and I will kill you before I toss you into space."

"Vaako, Vaako," Riddick had chided. "This piece of shit is going out the airlock screaming whether he tells us who's pulling his strings or not."

"My apologies, my Lord," Vaako had said and tossed the man back on the ground and stepped away as Riddick came to stand next to him.

Riddick had then ordered the Necropolis cleared. This time he hadn't needed to repeat himself as the nobles and military hastily made an exit.

Vaako had kept an eye on Pine as the room emptied. When only himself, Riddick, Pine, Gage, two of their personal guard, the dying guy on the floor, and two hellhounds were left, Vaako had ordered Pine to sit on the steps. Merc had padded along behind the tech.

"Did you recognize any of the attackers?" Riddick had asked the commander of his guard.

"No, my Lord, but one of them wore arm bracers that are of a popular design on the Viper."

Riddick had looked at Vaako when they heard the answer. They shared a moment of silent communication. He gave the Furyan a slight nod; Riddick tilted his head and then nodded in return.

"Dev," Vaako had ordered. "Escort Pine and the Commander of the Lord Marshal's Guard back to their chambers and make sure Thesa and Max know what has occurred."

"Yes, my Lord," Dev responsed and moved to Commander Gage's side.

When Gage had been about to speak, Vaako told him they would speak later and dismissed the three of them. Merc once again padding after Pine.

When Pine was not in earshot Eve finally spoke. "He does not need his eyes to go out the airlock," she said softly. "Perhaps he will tell me who pulls his strings before he suffers more pain."

Vaako lifted one of his eyebrows and had looked over at Riddick as if to say, your call. He knew Eve had taken an instant liking to both Pine and Mina and that she took her job as their guard very seriously.

"Be my guest," Riddick had said, waving his hand towards the man.

Eve pulled a knife from her belt and started to approach the man but before she could get within four feet of him he was blubbering an answer. "Lord Pearce," the man had all but shouted as he inched back from the approaching woman.

"One of Lady Cana's conquests," Vaako had supplied. "He's on the Axe."

"Nearest airlock for the garbage, Eve," Riddick had ordered.

"As you wish, my Lord," she said putting the knife away and looking down at the man on the floor. "You can either walk there yourself or the hound can drag you there," she had told the man.

The man took a few seconds to steady himself but stood and began to stumble off in the direction that Eve pointed. Shadow, the other hellhound in the Necropolis, followed after her on a signal from Riddick.

When he and Riddick were alone and in the hidden passageway, Riddick had pushed him into one of the walls and kissed him deeply. Vaako had returned the kiss just as fervently. He broke the kiss to say, "I know what you are thinking."

Riddick had chuckled and kissed him again. "Remember what I promised?" Riddick began, breaking the second kiss but kept him pushed against the wall. "Start shuffling the people around. I want everyone off balance when we land on Hades."

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

Riddick had been very relaxed the evening after Crematoria. Playing cat and mouse with Toombs for more than an hour had been very therapeutic. He'd run Toombs through the maze and holds for a half hour before taking a short break to corner Vaako in the control room for a very brief round of "Make Vaako Moan." He'd snuck up on Toombs after that and started the whole chase again. Only leaving when Vaako had signaled him that the conquest idol was ready for launch. He hoped that the last thing Toombs saw was the bright orb at the beginning of the Ascension Protocol.

Logan had survived the purification process and slotted perfectly into place with his guard. The people on both the Wake and the Rage had seemed to come to a consensus and there'd been no more talk from those ships about ending his or Vaako's life.

The attack on Pine had pissed him off, but it seemed Vaako had been correct about Gage's abilities. It also meant he was moving up his plans for Hades. Vaako had almost had to scramble to get his part finished. There were a lot of apprehensive military, confused civilians, and unsettled and pissed nobles who thought Riddick was upsetting their positions in the society.

Riddick gave very little care to the nobles. They, like the military, would either fall in line or get left behind--one way or the other.

The journey to Hades would take at least two months of hyperspace travel and that meant cryosleep for the entire fleet. This was the first time every seat at Riddick's dining room table had been occupied.

"Status?" Riddick asked.

"All frigates' systems have been tied and locked to the Basilica," Commander Par answered. "Systems are showing only the fifteen soldiers on each frigate that pulled patrol duty are awake; the rest read as full cryo."

"Rotation?" Vaako asked to verify his records.

"Ten days, three rotations."

"Your rotation?" Commander Gage asked.

"A, sir," Par answered, standing from the table. "If that is all my Lords, I'd like to return to navigation."

"You're dismissed," Vaako acknowledged.

After Par left, Gage turned to the Lord Marshal. "Your hall is in lockdown and your staff is in cryo in their chambers. Two of the hounds have been tranquilized and placed into cryo in the small pen."

Riddick lifted an eyebrow.

And Eve answered the unspoken enquiry. "We tranqed Shadow and Storm since they always follow you and Commander Vaako around, it seemed best since your chambers will be sealed once we leave."

"And the other two?"

"Merc and Gruff are in the hall with Dev and Bazen," Thesa answered calmly. "For now they will be remaining awake. They are a very good deterrent for anyone who decides now would be a good time to wander down the Lord Marshal's hallway."

Riddick snorted. "Your schedules?"

"Three on, three off, my Lord," Gage answered. "Five day rotations. One day between rotations where we will all be awake."

"First rotation is myself, Thesa, and Dev," Maxer said.

Gage stood and Thesa, Max, and Eve followed suit. "Once you seal your door, we don't want to know if you are in cryo or not, my Lords."

Riddick nodded and stood, following his guard to his door. "If the hounds eat anyone be sure to clean up the mess before we enter the M6 system," he said, as the door began to close.

"What do you think?" he asked, turning to face Vaako.

"That we chose them well," Vaako began, turning to walk to their sleeping chambers. "That Mina and Pine deserve something for making sure we and our guard have plenty of food and that all the scans and cross-runs were finished."

"And?" Riddick prompted, watching as Vaako removed his clothes.

"That you might be more interested in what I have planned for before we enter cryo than what I think of our plans for Hades."

Riddick licked his lips. "I am always interested in what you have to say Garrett," Riddick responded while taking off his shirt. "But you're right, I'm more interested in other things right now."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick stayed in cryosleep for the first two weeks and then that part of him that never truly shut down nudged him awake. He removed the wires and tubes and disconnected the arm device and gently rolled away from Vaako. The fancy cryo-jacks used by the Necromonger fleet allowed you to be placed into cryo in a bed, chair, bunk, or stasis tube.

He slipped on a loose pair of pants and then moved through their chambers, stopping in the kitchen for a small platter of spiced meat and bread and a pitcher of water. As soon as he placed his hand on the table the projected screen popped to life with a message from Vaako. "Clever bastard," Riddick commented, but skimmed through the files Vaako had left him.

Riddick checked the fleet's logs and the reports that Gage and Maxer filed at the end of each of their rotations. So far nothing was amiss and he didn't really expect anything until they entered the M6 system.

He stayed awake for a couple of days but soon found himself wanting to be wrapped around his partner in slumber again.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick didn't awaken again until the system started the wake cycle he had programmed in for both himself and Vaako. They wouldn't reach Hades for another two weeks but this would give them plenty of time to finish any last minute planning.

Vaako's eyes slit opened and stared up at him. "Two weeks out," he told him as Vaako started to remove the cryo-unit from his arm.

"Did you roam around?" Vaako asked, slipping from the bed and walking to the bathing chambers.

Riddick didn't answer right away, just wrapped his arms around his partner's slimmer waist and brought him back to lean against his chest. He licked at the juncture between neck and shoulder. "Yes," he answered, maneuvering Vaako under one of the sprays, his hand moving up his partner's chest. "It seems my clever little scholar of a partner left me homework."

Vaako moaned as Riddick's mouth teased at the purification mark on his neck. "Then I checked on my staff and guards without them knowing," he continued as his hands started traveling down Vaako's chest. "Though the two hounds may have noticed. After that I missed that clever bastard and decided my time was better spent wrapped around him."

Vaako groaned when Riddick spun him around and he was in a position that he was quite accustomed to when bathing and sex were on Riddick's mind at the same time. "More like a lucky bastard," Vaako whispered.

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

Vaako walked into the small pen carrying two large slabs of meat to find Riddick already squatting in front of the two hellhounds. "Just in time," Riddick told him, looking up from the hound. "They're coming out of it."

He handed the Furyan one of the slabs before reaching to run a hand over Storm's head and scratch by her ears as she began to wake. When she slit her eyes open he handed over the piece of meat and stepped back.

Vaako looked over at Riddick just in time to see the other man almost get knocked to the ground by Shadow as the hound wriggled around on the ground like a puppy happy to see its owner. He couldn't hide his laughter as Shadow tried to lick Riddick's face.

"Enough," Riddick said, then looked over at Vaako and added "From both of you."

"As you wish, my Lord," Vaako chuckled as he walked out of the pen, Storm padding after him. He was quite happy Storm seemed to be the more sedate of all the hounds, especially since she seemed to be his.

"Tomorrow we can let them out in the hall with the other two," Riddick commented coming into the dining room, Shadow still bouncing around behind the Furyan.

Vaako did a quick calculation in his head. "It is Gage's rotation, he will be so thrilled with you," he said caustically. He knew the rotation was getting ready to change and that Eve could get the hounds to behave until they settled back into their patterns.

Riddick shrugged. "I think they need to all be awake starting with the next rotation."

"You think someone is going to try something," Vaako stated, sharing Riddick's concern. He drummed his fingers on the table. "The question is, will they come directly at us thinking your hall is still in cryo?"

Riddick grunted but his answer showed the intelligence that Vaako knew he liked to keep hidden behind his killer facade. "Depends on who it is. Scan the ships and see how many people might be up and moving and where they are located. It won't be all of them. Some people just can't stay in cryosleep for long periods of time but will stay in their chambers until they are allowed to leave."

"We should wake Pine, Mina, and the Elemental as well."

"Aereon's not really in cryo," Riddick replied. "She's more or less in a meditative state, probably re-calculating the future of the universe now that I'm more accepting of being Lord Marshal."

The way Riddick had phrased that last bit Vaako figured more than one of those meetings between the Elemental and the Furyan that had been the topic of discussion. "Pine and Mina?" he asked, returning to the situation at hand.

"Keep down for a few more days and then we'll wake them," Riddick said, looking at the empty fruit bowl he'd pushed to the other side of the table. "If something looks to happen I want them moved here," Riddick lifted his hand and used his index finger to indicate their chambers, "Until it passes."

"Maybe while we're on Hades keeping them together, either here or in one of their chambers and under guard might be for the best as well," Vaako recommended.

"Are you thinking like me now"? Riddick asked him.

Vaako shrugged. "If I was trying to get people to believe you were weak I might make a move on your personal staff while you were occupied elsewhere."

Riddick grunted. "Nah, you'd come at me head on and armed to the teeth."

This time Vaako snorted. "I have other ways of getting things from you Richard Riddick and not all of them call for a need for weapons," he paused and then added, "or sex. That sweet bread Mina makes seems to work just fine."

"Are you really ready for what I have planned?" Riddick asked changing the subject. "Not only on Hades but after?"

"I have been a Necromonger for nearly half my life," Vaako began, shifting his hands to wrap around the mug he'd been drinking from. "But change was needed before you became Lord Marshal. You tried to warn them what would happen if they didn't fall in line with your new regime."

Vaako forestalled any comment from Riddick by removing one of his hands from his mug and putting it on Riddick's arm. "I am ready for what we have to do," he answered truthfully.

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

As predicted, someone did mastermind an attempted siege on the Lord Marshal's hall eight days before the ships were set to come out of cryosleep. A group of twenty men, with some actual planning, tried a run on the hall.

The architect who devised the plan obviously knew he or she would lose several men to the hounds, so the plan seemed to be to send in troops in waves. The hellhounds did what was expected and ran after the first few who entered the Lord Marshal's hall. With the hall cleared and working from the directions the architect gave them the invaders slowly started to make their way down what they deemed an empty, dark hallway.

It was really too bad that whoever he or she was had not verified certain facts with his or her contact on the Basilica. It was evident that the invaders thought that only half of the personal guard was awake and the only occupied chambers would be closer to the Lord Marshal's. The invaders calmly walked down the darkened hallway after the hellhounds had taken off and quickly found themselves trapped on both sides by the Lord Marshal's personal guard.

As soon as the hounds had taken off, Max and Thesa started the process of moving the civilians from their chambers to the Lord Marshal's chambers. They moved Pine first, but unfortunately it got a little trickier with the other two as a few of the invaders seemed to have actually made it around the corner and past the other guards.

Riddick and Vaako joined the fight just as the final twelve attackers decided to make a rush down the hall. It seemed that some of the rear wave had managed to get their hands on plasma guns. Guns that were supposed to be kept in lockdown and only issued when troops were engaging in a ground assault.

"Unexpected but adds to the excitement," Riddick said cheerfully as he ducked a random blast before charging and disarming the guy. "But someone is gonna get airlocked later."

Vaako threw his knife and the attacker making a move towards Riddick twisted to the ground, grabbing at the handle that now protruded from his eye. The man only had seconds to live as Eve came at him and finished the job.

"I think Toal or Scales has upped their game," Vaako said.

"Bet you're wishing you had killed him when you had the chance, aren't you?" Riddick questioned after popping up from a roll to kneel next to Vaako.

Vaako growled. "Hades," he stated. "Just me and him and very public."

Riddick grabbed the back of Vaako's head and pulled him close. "Can't wait," Riddick said. Then leaned in for a quick kiss and added, "My guard seems to be having fun."

"We chose them well." Repeating a comment he had made almost two months earlier.

Unfortunately they chose too well as none of the invaders were left alive to be interrogated. What they did know was that a handful of ship guards who had been on duty in the docking bay had allowed a transport to dock with the Basilica. And that one of the attackers to make it around the corner had a datapad that could transmit short-range. He had gotten a short message out before he died that said the female menial was dead.

Pine was tracing the message, as it had to be sent to someone else on the Basilica before it could be transmitted by one of the Quasi Dead to any of the frigates.

Riddick was far from happy, pissed didn't even cover it, as he walked back towards his chambers, but he was already re-working his own plans for when they landed on Hades.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Vaako stood behind him as the Basilica started to extend the outer stairs to the desert ground below. The other frigates had landed in a double row facing each other with the Basilica at the point forming the shape of a U.

The stairs of the other frigates began to extend and soldiers started to form ranks on the ground. The nobles and civilians began to come out of the frigates but most remained standing on the stairs and the multiple platforms that extended from them.

Riddick watched it all with a gleam in his eyes that had nothing to do with their shine but of what he knew would be coming within the next few days. When he started down the stairs the hellhounds began to slowly spread out keeping people away. Four members of his guard also currently flanked him and Vaako.

"You will have to tell me later," he told Vaako, "why our good Sergeant volunteered to take babysitting duty again." He heard Eve who was directly behind him snort softly. "Or Eve can share now since she seems to find my comment funny."

"My apologies Lord Riddick, but I believe Max is attempting to, umm," Eve paused looking for the right word the Necromongers might use for the situation but wasn't getting any help from Gage or Baxen who just smiled at her and she was forced to finish herself. "Perhaps I should tell you when there are not so many prying ears."

"Am I gonna have to kill Max?" Riddick asked.

"No," Vaako said unconcerned while raising an eyebrow at the other man as if to say: if there had been I would have either told you or handled it myself.

Riddick starred at Vaako for a second longer then nodded and turned to look out at the mass of soldiers. He raised his right arm and then lowered it and about a sixth of the soldiers in the ranks began to move off towards the hills and strange looking rock tubes and formations. Using the scans Pine had run for him of who was aligned with whom, he'd issued an offer to certain members of the rank and file. If they managed to live, they would get their choice of frigate. Riddick was only mildly surprised when less than half took him up on the offer.

Within minutes, thirteen of the troop sub commanders began breaking the ranks into smaller groups for field combat exercises. The winning teams would receive commendations from the Lord Marshal. And some of the men might even receive their own units, but that he was leaving to Vaako to decide.

"You think the attack will come soon?" Gage asked, his voice sounding hopeful.

Riddick glanced over his shoulder. "Nah," he answered. "I think you will just have to enjoy standing there and listening to the nobles bitch until sometime after tomorrow's mid-day."

"I should have volunteered to stay with our civilians," Eve muttered darkly as they moved to the area that was being set up at the base of the Basilica.

Vaako snorted but said nothing as he kept pace with Riddick.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick listened as the contingent of nobles from the Scream complained about the reorganization of the living locations for the entire fleet. "Stop!" he said, raising his hand. "If you are really that unhappy with your new homes, battle it out like the soldiers do. The winner can live on the loser's ship."

"My Lord!" One of the Lords exclaimed while another turned on Vaako and asked with clear disdain, "Have you taught this, this barbarian nothing?"

Riddick growled and bared his teeth in what could only be described as a demented smile. It was the last thing the noble saw before the curved blade Riddick favored cut through the man's neck.

"Somebody move the trash out of the way," he said, wiping the blood from the knife. He turned to the rest of the group. "Anything else?"

"No, my Lord Marshal, no."

Riddick shooed away with the latest batch of nobles with a flick of his wrist. He glanced over at Vaako who sat in the only other chair on the shaded platform. "Well?"

Vaako leaned forward and gave a small shrug while barely keeping the smirk from his face. "The barbarian comment was new."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Commander Scales kneeled before the Lord Marshal. "None have returned, my Lord," he said, not looking up.

Riddick wasn't surprised; he had maybe expected one or two to survive and make it back, but none to succeed and bring him back one of the beasts. "And you think your platoon can do better?"

"They are better trained, my Lord," Scales answered.

"Then have at it commander," Riddick waved his hand toward the rocks. "You have until the second sun rises tomorrow and then the fleet leaves this planet."

"Do they even stand a chance?" Eve asked from her position at Vaako's left.

"Maybe." Riddick grinned. "Let's get today's complaints over with."

Dev stepped away from Riddick's side and signaled the contingent from the Axe to come forward.

"This should be fun," Gage muttered softly and didn't look abashed when Riddick glanced at him.

The Axe nobles came forward and kneeled as was required and then the spokeswoman started talking. "We understand that as Lord Marshal you may move people from ship to ship at your will," the Lady Ano began, sounding a little patronizing to Riddick, but he let her continue. "And as you are aware, the last few Lord Marshals were set on acquiring more people for the ranks..."

"Get to the point, lady," Riddick growled.

"You have removed almost all the menials from the Axe and we were hoping you might return them to us?" She finished.

"Not happening," Riddick answered. "And if that's all you had to ask, you can leave."

When Lady Ano opened her mouth to protest Vaako stopped her. "Unless you want to add your blood to the stains below your feet I would suggest you go back to your ship and learn to do your own cooking and cleaning."

The lady glared but spun on her heel and walked away without bowing. Her people followed her also without bowing.

Riddick quirked an eyebrow and looked over at Vaako for his assessment of the situation. And Vaako didn't disappointment him when he said, "I would say she is indeed working with Lady Cana and Lord Pearce."

The Furyan grunted. "I would expect the attack within the next hour then."

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

Vaako was impressed. Riddick called the time of the attack to within a few minutes. He ignored both Eve and Gage's remarks of "oh thank god" and "it's about time" when they found themselves almost surrounded by more than two dozen soldiers.

Especially after Vaako noticed that Toal was standing with Lady Cana about twenty yards away in the limited shade offered by the Axe. "You can go after him once we're done here," Riddick nudged him and Vaako knew if Riddick wasn't wearing those black goggles of his to block the rays of the planet's three suns that he would be able to see anticipation in his partner's shining silver eyes.

Vaako nodded and pulled a large double-bladed ax from behind his chair while pulling his plasma gun from its holster.

"No mercy, no survivors," he heard Riddick order, but he had already stepped into the charging fray.

The fight started with odds of nearly five-to-one and Vaako had no doubt Toal had at least another dozen men waiting in the sidelines. He ducked and spun as two men in full armor came at him. One thing he had learned from Riddick was that Necromonger armor was not as protective as they had been taught it was. The right strike and blow combination and you could be wounded or killed. The two men quickly became just another set of dead pawns in someone else's game.

Vaako briefly ended up back-to-back with Riddick when they got separated from their guard, but they spun apart as quickly as they'd come together. He glanced to his right and saw Eve and Gage dispatch their opponents with speed and efficiency that said they'd been training with Riddick. The hounds tore past him chasing several nobles and their guards but Vaako didn't give them another thought as Sergeant Olen came at him.

They circled each other and Vaako let Olen have the first swing. Using it to judge how much training Toal was giving his sub commanders. When Olen raised his arm Vaako used a curved knife to attack the soldier's unprotected side. With that move, Vaako came to the conclusion that Toal was giving them just enough to survive but not enough that they would be able to best Toal himself.

"You should never have tried to kill what is mine," he told the sergeant.

"We might not have gotten the tech yet," Olen seethed as he took another swing at Vaako and missed. "But we got the breeder's little serving girl," he said and smiled when his knife finally drew blood across Vaako's arm.

"She's dead," Olen taunted, trying the same move as before.

Vaako plunged the knife hard into Olen's chest and twisted. "So are you," he said as he pulled the knife free and watched Olen's body drop to the ground.

He spun around just in time to see Riddick twist and grab the staff of a spear that had been meant for him. Vaako pulled his plasma gun from its holster again and shot the man holding the other end of the staff. Riddick then used the spear to impale another attacker. "Are we tied again," Vaako asked as the two of them once again spun away from each other. The only response he got was a chuckle.

Vaako ducked and pivoted around, avoiding the grunt that charged at him but made sure to spin the man in a direction that had him stabbing one of his comrades. He then turned and took out another with the knife in his hand.

"You are behind by one now," Riddick whispered in his ear.

"There are more in the audience we have gathered," he replied.

Riddick squeezed his hip. "And here they come now," Riddick told him, taking the gun from Vaako's holster. "But I'm getting tired of cutting down the pawns."

Vaako knew Riddick rarely used a gun when a blade would do the job, but sometimes a gun was quicker. "And now I'm down by three. Can I have my gun back?" he asked the Furyan.

Riddick brought the gun up and around to fire off another shot at a noble that was about to try and plunge a knife into Bazen's back. Though apparently the corporal hadn't needed the help as he had reversed the spear he was carrying and let the man impale himself on it.

Vaako glanced around what had become a combat circle with spectators. Outside of Riddick, himself, and the personal guard no one else was standing within the circle. As the hellhounds came back through the crowds several people backed away from the circle.

"Guess you can have your gun back." Riddick told him as he tossed the gun back with a grin.

Vaako snatched the gun from the air and in the same move aimed it at Toal. "I challenge you Toal," Vaako pronounced loud and clear so that all around him could hear. "And you have no option but to accept."

Toal came forward with a sneer on his face and a long bladed knife in his hand ready for what he thought would obviously be an easy challenge. "I'm well rested and you are worn and injured from today's show. This will be easy."

Vaako shrugged at Toal's confidence and tossed his gun to Gage and took the curved blades Riddick handed to him. "I want those back when you are done," Riddick told him before taking several steps back to stand between Eve and Dev.

Toal moved quick and sure, but Vaako slipped past and around him as if he was made of water. An ax was tossed from someone in the audience to Toal and Vaako rolled out of the way while managing to run the blade of the knife across Toal's leg.

Vaako came to his feet and Toal had to lower the ax as he turned or be thrown off balance. Vaako used all this to his advantage and brought his arms up and then down in an X pattern, letting the blades tear through the armor Toal wore.

He heard Toal swear right before he tried to use the heavy ax as a ram, but it only glanced across Vaako's side and Toal cursed at him again.

Vaako saw the other man's frustration and gave a small smile that only provoked Toal more and into several stupid and worthless moves. And then before Toal knew how it happened he was bleeding even more and on his knees on the desert ground in front of Vaako.

Vaako for his part reached down and pulled one of the curved blades out of Toal's chest. "I have to return these," he said, speaking for the first time since the challenge had started.

Toal looked down at the hole in his chest and then started to slide backwards to the ground. He was dead before he was all the way down.

With all the challengers and their supposed leader dead, the crowds began to disperse as people made their way back to their ships.

Vaako continued to stand there, staring at the retreating back of Lady Cana.

"She will get what's coming to her," Riddick whispered into his ear.

"I know." Vaako handed the blades back before speaking again. "I need a shower," he said, trying to wipe the blood, sweat, and sand from the side of his face.

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

Riddick approached the division in the hallway and turned left into the Lord Marshal's hall just as the four hellhounds took off running down the corridor.

"That is probably not good," Dev said more to himself than his fellow guards or commanders.

"No," Riddick replied, coming to the first body on the ground. "It is not."

Bazen slid closer to the wall so that he was actually the first one around the final corner of the hallway that led directly to the Lord Marshal and his personal staff's chambers. "There's another body down just past Lady Aereon's door," he told the Lord Marshal. "Looks like the weapons and a wrist guard have been stripped from the body."

Riddick grunted. He appreciated Bazen's willingness to take a hit for him had there been someone alive around the corner, but he didn't take a personal guard for them to be pawns. As if knowing what he was thinking Vaako leaned in close and whispered, "Let the man do his job."

There was another body on the ground just outside Pine and Gage's chambers. It looked like the intruder had been taken out while trying to leave the chamber. He too had been stripped of weapons and a part of his armor at the shoulder was missing.

Eve poked her head into the chambers and whistled. "There's another body in here." Armor, blood and tech parts covered the floor. Eve turned to look over her shoulder at Gage. "It's not Pine, but he's going to be pissed when he sees the mess."

All four hellhounds were standing at the door to Mina's chamber. Merc stood on his hind legs and pushed on the door with his front legs. His claws making clicking noises against the metal as he dropped back to all fours and then started to howl.

Vaako walked around the hounds to the door controls and entered his entry code. The door started to open and at the same time they could just hear the soft sounds of a plasma gun warming up. Everyone but the hounds stepped back from the door and then the hounds rushed in and right past Max.

"My Lord," Max said calmly, lowering the gun as Riddick was the first one to enter the chambers.

"You've been busy," Riddick commented. He walked through the small sitting area and into the work area that was Mina's kitchen and paused at the sight.

"Out there, my Lord. That," he tilted his head to the table and chair set that was off to one side, "was all them."

"Gage," Pine stood up as soon as he got the hellhound to stop licking him. Pine blushed slightly as if remembering he was supposed to address the Lord Marshal and Vaako first. "My Lords," he began.

Riddick just waved him off. "Thesa, you care to explain?" he asked.

"Oh, my Lord, this wasn't me either." She gave Pine and Mina a smile as she stood slowly. Her right arm was still bandaged, as was part of her chest. She disengaged the gun she had been hiding under the table and handed it to Dev when he came forward.

"Pine, Mina, would one of you care to explain this?" Riddick asked his two staff members. He wanted an explanation for the guy sitting at the small dining room table with his hands secured to the tabletop with what looked like a set of paring knives stabbed through them. The intruder was also gagged and tied to the chair. There was a small broken table and a broken sitting room chair in the corner and someone had obviously swept up the pieces of several crushed data pads, and fragments from stone and glass bowls into a neat pile right next to the remains of the chair and table.

Pine looked from Riddick to Vaako to Gage and then Mina before answering his voice a little timid and soft. "Umm, I that is, we..."

"Got you a present," Mina finished, smiling over at Pine before tossing several of the hard sugarlin roots to the floor for the hounds to chew on.

"I can see that," Riddick chuckled. "Who is he?"

"We don't know, my Lord," Thesa answered. "They gagged him about the time he started yelling about the weak vassals and them not knowing their places. Though he was rather shocked to see Mina and I alive."

"I just bet."

During the cyrosleep attack Thesa had taken a partial plasma blast to the back and side when she had knocked Mina to the ground. When the message had gone out that the female menial was dead, Riddick had not corrected the mistake. He had wanted to see where and to whom it would lead. Mina and Thesa had been unable to leave Mina's chambers for the last week and a half. Especially as no one on the Basilica was really sure if Thesa was another servant or not. Mina had also been basically forbidden from doing most of the cooking as no one could retrieve ingredients without revealing that the attack had failed altogether. Pine had been sentenced to Mina's quarters with just a handful of data pads as any future attacks would be focused on the tech and his chambers.

"Dev," Riddick called. "Escort Thesa back to her chambers and get her anything she needs. And take Gruff with you." When he noticed Dev about to hand both his and Thesa's plasma guns to Gage he added, "Keep'um."

"Yes, my Lord, thank you."

"Bazen, Max," Riddick began but he saw Vaako just barely shake his head. The Furyan raised an eyebrow at his partner, but gave a small shrug to indicate Vaako could give the next order.

"Bazen," Vaako ordered. "Call down to the maintenance level and request two cleaning crews. You and Eve stay with them as they remove the bodies and clean and replace any furniture. Tell them they can have the armor and any valuables they find on the bodies. They can do Mina's chambers last."

Riddick looked over at Max. "Did they do any damage to Aereon's chambers?"

"No, my Lord. They left Lady Aereon be. I believe most seem to be afraid of her elemental ways."

Riddick snorted. "She can be scary sometimes."

"Pine may want to be present when they start with your chambers, Commander," Max said to Gage. "I knocked one of them into his work table. There was some crunching noises at the end of the fight. Sorry." The last part was for Pine's benefit.

Pine started to move away from Gage, but Gage halted him by keeping his hand on Pine's waist. "Wait until Eve comes to get you, then you can go inspect any damage," Gage said quietly. Eve gave a quick nod and followed Bazen out of the chambers. "But I believe the Lord Marshal and Lord Vaako have questions for you and Mina about the man you've attached to the table."

Riddick watched as Pine looked over at the table and blinked as if he had forgotten about the man. He smiled at the thought because most likely his little tech had.

"You can sit, Pine," Riddick said moving to lean against the wall behind the chair Thesa had vacated earlier. He raised an eyebrow at Vaako and watched as his partner came over and sat in the chair. And that's when Riddick saw what Eve and Vaako wouldn't tell him the other day--Max was standing very close to Mina's chair, just like Gage was to Pine's. He'd deal with that new development later.

Riddick glanced over at the intruder who was now awake and glaring at him. "Now tell me how this man ended up here."

"I think," Pine stumbled. "He, he thought these chambers would be empty since Mina was gone and that he could hide here until Max and Thesa were back down the hall."

The man rocked the chair slightly and muttered something through the rag that was stuffed in his mouth while glaring at Pine. Pine almost scooted back in his chair but stopped when Gage rested his hand on his shoulder.

"Speak again and your hands won't be the only thing pinned to the table," Riddick growled.

Pine worried his bottom lip with his teeth. "I don't know how he got through the locks," Pine said softly, not looking up from his hands or the single data pad he still held. "He shouldn't have been able to do that."

Riddick could see that Pine was nervous and worried but Gage's presence behind him seemed to be comforting to the younger man. "Has the pin cushion there been searched?" Riddick asked.

"No, my Lord," Max answered. "This is how I found him when I entered Mina's chambers. Only the gag has been added since then."

"Search him while Mina finishes the story," Riddick ordered.

Mina twisted the empty glass in her hand before placing it on the table. "He charged in here. I threw a bowl at him, Pine threw the pitcher and then Thesa rammed into him. They took out the chair when he tried to throw Thesa off of him, but she dragged him back with her and they crashed through the table after that. Then he was up and coming at us. When he put his hand on the table so he could try to reach across it for Pine I rammed a paring knife into it."

Pine spoke. "I picked up the other knife and did the same thing when he put his other hand on the table for balance. Thesa limped back into the room and knocked his legs out from under him. We then just kind of tied him to the chair. We thought you might want to talk with him." Pine finally looked up from his hands when Gage lightly squeezed his shoulder.

"Hey," Pine exclaimed when he saw Max dump all the items pulled off the intruder onto the table.

Riddick watched as Pine stepped up to the table and pulled a small silver device out of the pile. "You're not supposed to have this," he said to man. "He's not supposed to have this," he said, looking up at Riddick.

Vaako reached across to Pine and took the device from the tech. "It's a scan key," Vaako said. It was a key given to a frigate's commander so he could enter any room without signaling the occupant. Vaako had the one for the Basilica. "It has the Axe's logo across it so Commander Garn gave his key to someone who could add the Basilica's door override commands to it. Must have been Franks before you flushed him out the airlock for providing the plasma guns during the cryosleep attack. He'd have had the access at the time to add to the scan key and the ability to keep it off the logs."

Riddick pushed away from the wall just as the chime on the door went off and the door slid open. "Looks like Eve is here for Pine," he said before Eve had fully walked into the room. "Go along Pine, you too Mina. And Mina, stay with Eve until either Gage or the sergeant here comes to escort you back to your chambers."

"Yes, my Lord," both Mina and Pine said. Then Pine turned back to the hellhound that was still lying on the floor next to where he had been sitting. "Come on, Merc."

Riddick grinned as the hellhound padded after the tech. "Now," he said, turning to the man still pinned to the table. "What are we going to do with you?"

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

The man pinned in place tried to glare a hole through Riddick's head. Vaako snorted, that tactic never worked with Riddick. He would know; he had spent several weeks trying.

"I believe Mina would like the trash out of her chambers." His observation earned him a snort of agreement from Riddick.

"First we find out who pulls his strings," Riddick said, yanking the gag out of the man's mouth. "Speak," Riddick said.

"You breeder piece of," the man's comment was cut off as Riddick pulled one of the knives out and slammed it back down into another section of the bleeding hand.

"I suggest," Vaako started, "you answer our questions or the next half hour of your life will be more painful than your first purification. Did you steal Commander Garn's scan key or did he give it to you?"

"I'll never tell you! You have become as much a breeder as the thing sitting on the throne."

Vaako raised an eyebrow at the comment, but said nothing as he leaned back in his chair and stretched out his legs. He saw Riddick slide into the chair that Pine had vacated. "Hounds?" he asked the Furyan.

Max cleared his throat and waited to be acknowledged. "They are a little messy when they tear a person apart and Mina's chambers..." Max left the rest unsaid.

Vaako saw Gage look over at him and Riddick and waited until Riddick gave him a small nod. Vaako knew the captain of their guard weighed Pine's safety over his own and that, even though he was normally soft spoken, he could be just as vicious as Riddick or himself when it came to protecting what was his.

But Vaako was still a little surprised when Gage pulled out the same knife Riddick had and instead of slamming it into the hand again picked the spot just where the arm met the shoulder. The man grunted but didn't scream. "You tried to take something that is mine from me," Gage said quietly. "And regardless of the wishes of my Lord Marshal or those of my Commander, I will drag you down to the incinerators and watch you burn alive."

A chime at the door interrupted them, but as the man began to slump forward a bit, Gage twisted the knife. "I am not done with you," he said, even as Bazen came into sight.

Vaako saw Riddick's grin; obviously Gage had been spending a little too much time with Riddick and Eve.

"My apologies, my Lords," Bazen said, handing a data pad to Vaako. "But Pine seemed to think you would want to see this."

Vaako accepted the pad and dismissed Bazen. He glanced down at the data on the screen and scrolled through a couple of sections before passing it over to Riddick.

Riddick read the highlights before tossing the pad on the table. "So, Sergeant Lim did you kill Garn for the key or did someone else?"

It hadn't seemed possible that Lim could become paler than he already was, but he did. Whether it was because they now knew who he was or because Garn was dead didn't really matter. "He was weak," Lim said through clenched teeth. "If someone has promoted him to full dead then the Axe is better for it."

Riddick grunted and Vaako knew his partner didn't expect to get anything else out of Lim and was done with the issue at hand. Vaako stood and pulled both knives out of Lim's body. "Gage, Max, airlock--which won't be nearly as much fun as he'll just fall to his death on the desert floor--or incinerators, your choice. Send the crews in when you leave. After that, you're free for the night."

"And Max," Riddick called.

"Yes, my Lord," the sergeant answered.

Riddick's silver eyes were focused solely on the sergeant and Vaako was proud to see Max didn't flinch. "When you are done, you escort Mina back to her chambers. If she wants you to stay, you stay. If she wants you to go, go. Do not make me unhappy."

"Understood, my Lord," Max bowed and then helped Gage drag Lim from the chambers.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

After the challenge the day before, no one from the other frigates seemed to be up for complaining. Most of the fleet seemed to just be enjoying a day that did not have them confined to a ship. Though the military and nobles from the Axe, Viper, Terror and Scream were not as interested in talking with people outside their own frigates and were staying within a circle that encompassed those four ships.

"They are going to be trouble," Vaako had said when he had first observed the matter. And then could only nod as Riddick had told him that some of the problem would be over soon.

"They seem to be the ones who are holding onto Kryll and Zhylaw's legacies the hardest," he commented. "I thought it would have been the Purifiers, but even they have started to embrace the truths in the records and histories that had been withheld from them."

It was actually Gage who was standing in position at his left who gave voice to his thoughts. "They only see two classes of people--themselves and everyone else, and this is the first time in decades anyone has challenged them on that. They see a puppet sitting on the throne."

Riddick turned his goggled eyes to look at Gage. "And which of us is the puppet and which is its controller?" he asked.

Gage gave a small shrug. "Both," he replied. "Depends on who you ask."

Dev who rarely spoke added, "They are mistaken." He offered no further comment or observation to his statement.

Riddick stood and stretched. "I'm ready to get back into space."

Vaako glanced at the sky and saw the first rays from the second sun were just coming over the horizon and that wasn't all. Barely within normal range of sight he could see two soldiers hiking their way back to the frigates and they were both dragging something behind them.

"Looks like you have a winner," he said pointing out the two men.

"Seems so," Riddick replied. "And neither of them is Scales."

As people began making their way back onto their frigates, he and Riddick and their guard waited at the base of the Basilica for the two soldiers. As they got closer it was apparent that the two soldiers had lost or removed most of their heavy armor. When they were within a few yards they dropped their burdens and knelt in front of the Lord Marshal. "My Lord," they said in unison.

Vaako recognized the two soldiers from the rosters he had reviewed as promising corporals if they could get out from under Scales and placed under a commander who valued his people.

"Where is Commander Scales?" Vaako heard Riddick ask as he got his first glimpse of the planet's only living creature. He had done research on the raptors and knew they had not been native to the planet but some long ago civilization's attempt to perfect a bio-weapon--a weapon that had turned on its creators.

"The commander was demoted when he fled at the sight of the raptors, my Lord," Corporal Keen answered. He had cuts on his arms and back and it seemed that Corporal Web had faired about the same.

"Understandable," Riddick replied.

"Within two hours of take off report to Sub Commander Par. You've been moved to the Basilica."

"Thank you, my Lord," both men answered in unison.

Vaako dismissed them and then turned in time to see Riddick removing several very sharp claws, teeth, and what appeared to be spikes from the raptor's arms. He took one of the spikes when Riddick handed it to him. He was surprised at how flexible it was while still being able to rip through a body wearing armor. When fashioned correctly the spike would make a very promising weapon for close quarter combat.

"Okay, let's get our fleet off the ground. I'm done with this planet," Riddick ordered and started up the stairs of the Basilica.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Vaako knew what was going to happen. He had helped set it up, but that didn't mean it wouldn't hurt to see it. So, he stood next to the Lord Marshal as Riddick ordered the Ascension Protocol before all the frigates had completely left the atmosphere. Sub Commander Par didn't question the order, just started the sequence by firing several Conquest Icons at the planet.

He stood looking down at the floor and the images projected there. The icons slammed into the ground with enough force that about a fourth of it was buried underground. It still managed to tower some three hundred feet into the air and glowed red from its quick entry through the planet's atmosphere. Mere seconds later a ball of energy formed and shot upwards, hovering over the device, ready.

Riddick stood next to him, the Furyan's body so close he could feel the heat. He lifted his head from the images and gave Riddick a small nod. And then he waited.

"Final Protocol," Riddick ordered softly.

Riddick's hand brushed against his back and he appreciated the gesture. "Execute," he ordered before Riddick could.

"Yes, my Lord."

The energy clouds rose upward a bit more before falling back toward the icons. The icons started to glow and tremble and then sent out blast waves that ripped through the ground to the planet's surface. The shockwaves ripped through the three ships unlucky enough not to have made it fully off the ground. The Viper, Scream, and Terror wouldn't be a problem any longer.

"Take us into the Naren Galaxy," Riddick ordered.

"Yes, my Lord."

Vaako stood there for another moment before spinning on his heel and leaving Navigation. He didn't get far before Riddick manhandled him into a darkened alcove. "You didn't have to do that," he heard Riddick say, while he tried to understand why he was not as lost as he thought he should be. "I would have given the order," Riddick said, grasping his chin. "You in there?"

"I am," Vaako responded, looking into Riddick's eyes. "It was our decision," he continued. "I stand with you in it all."

"I know," he heard Riddick whisper right before the Furyan leaned in to kiss him.

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

Riddick moaned one last time as he rode out his climax. He shifted a little as Vaako withdrew and moved to lie next to him. He woke several hours later with Vaako in his arms. His partner's head rested on his chest right below his shoulder, while an arm was thrown across his chest and their legs were tangled together. Riddick ran his hand through Vaako's hair and then down across the strong shoulders and back.

The last couple of days had been hard for them all. Most of his guard, minus Eve, had taken the destruction of three of the frigates with some range of sadness. Though it seemed in the past Zhylaw would just leave troops and anyone else on a planet when they pulled out if he was in a pissy mood so the loss of a platoon here or there or even whole garrisons wasn't exactly new. Eve really had not been concerned, but then again she was new to the whole Necromonger thing and was only there because of him. She had admitted to liking some of the after effects of her purification--quicker healing, speed, and a little more strength, but could do without the Purifiers.

Aereon had told him she had not calculated the actions he'd taken on Hades. Riddick had only grinned and said, "Just keep watching, lady."

As civilians, Pine and Mina had taken it the hardest. Especially Pine who realized the scans and file runs and eavesdropping on ship communications he had done had led to the chamber and ship re-assignments and possibly even the decisions on which frigates had been destroyed. For all the death the Necromongers had spread, Pine had been sheltered from most of it. Riddick had since made sure all of his staff and guard had read the unseen history files. He didn't really want to see his little tech having another breakdown.

Vaako stirred next to him and he once again ran his hand through his partner's hair and down the strong shoulders and back. "I put the ships into the black," he said while gently rolling Vaako over and stretching out on top of him.

"I am supposed to be in the sparring chambers training Max and Gage in about twenty minutes." Vaako's statement ended with a groan.

"I like sparring," Riddick whispered, licking the side of Vaako's neck.

"I said sparring," Vaako moaned. "Not sex."

Riddick pulled back to look his lover in the eyes. "I like that too," he said with a grin before capturing Vaako's lips.

"I know," Vaako replied, gripping at Riddick's waist before moving his hand further down.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Riddick loved watching Vaako fight, even if it was just a training session with their guard. The training room was another chamber down the Lord Marshal's hall that Riddick had the engineers gut and refurbish into something more useful while they were working on the pens for the hellhounds. "You are dropping your left shoulder, Bazen," he called just as Vaako dumped the man to the floor.

From his position on the floor Bazen rolled his head so he could see Riddick. "Yes, my Lord, that was just made very evident," he answered before letting Gage pull him to his feet.

Riddick grinned. "Just so it's clear."

The heads of the three hellhounds in the room suddenly lifted, turning slightly as if listening to something. Then they were all standing and stretching before ambling out the door.

"Mina has obviously taken Pine his lunch," Gage said while taking a ready position in front of Vaako.

Thesa leaned against the wall. Her shoulder and chest out of the bandages. "They will ambush her when she comes out of your chambers," she told Gage as he pulled himself off the floor with a grunt.

Riddick tilted his head and smiled when he heard a very soft "back you beasts." He chuckled before he told Max to go rescue his girl and their lunch.

"Yes, my Lord."

Vaako joined him on the bench while Eve moved into the ring opposite Bazen, "We will be near the first Threshold marker within a week," Riddick said. "It will be destroyed before most even know where we are going."

"And the other markers?" Vaako asked.

Riddick shrugged. "I'd rather none of them survive, but I know you want the information contained within their data cores first."

Vaako nodded before quietly speaking. "We'll need Pine to sit at your private system to gain and contain the data flow."

"You and he can have your little research fest as often as you want, but eventually Gage will want Pine back in his bed."

He saw Vaako roll his eyes, but ignored it because he knew that Vaako wouldn't leave the private office until Pine had gotten all the information from the core; and possibly not even until after he read it all at least once through. He leaned in and whispered softly into Vaako's ear. "I will want you back in our bed at some point too."

Vaako snorted. "Are we going to spar?"

"I thought we did that this morning."

"Spar, Riddick."

Riddick laughed and stood. He also liked trying to get a rise out of Vaako.

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

Vaako sat in the dark and stared at nothing. He wanted to...he didn't know what he wanted to do at the moment. Screaming seemed like a good idea. So did destroying the console where he sat.

Leaning back in his chair he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Destroying their private office would just mean he would have to fix it later. Screaming would either bring their guard or Riddick and right now he just needed to be alone for a little bit longer.

He felt the rough tongue on his hand as Storm licked him. Vaako lifted his hand and petted the female hound on the head and behind her ears. She leaned into his leg and began a low, very satisfying sound that was very cat-like.

Vaako looked down at the hellhound and smiled, Riddick was right, there was something up with Storm. She seemed a bit clingy and was not nearly as active as the other hounds. Riddick had said he had asked Eve and she'd just laughed and excused herself from the room. Vaako took that to mean that the hound was not sick and whatever it was would settle itself. For now though, it kept her close when he needed some sort of quiet comfort.

When he stood Storm picked up the hard sugarlin root that Mina had given her the day before and followed him out of the office. They parted ways when he went into the dining area and she went to the pen. Vaako hoped there was some of the peppered eldeer chili and hot Banlin tea left.

He was in luck when he opened the warmer and found two bowls--one filled with chili and the other with cobbler. He took his seat at the table and began eating. Sometime from leaving the office to sitting down to eat he had a moment of absolute clarity. One he knew would shape his, their, future.

"Are you going to share those?" Riddick asked, joining him at the table.

"I don't think so," he answered taking another bite of the chili. "I'm sure if you ask Mina she will take pity on you."

Riddick snorted but didn't move, asking instead. "Are you ready?"

He didn't even have to hesitate. "Yes," he answered. "I was ready a day after we destroyed the first marker."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

They had approached the first marker and Pine had immediately gone to work extracting the data core and moving the content to the private system. Three hours later Riddick had ordered the marker destroyed. Vaako had watched from Navigation as the small hub became nothing but dust particles floating through empty space.

From there the fleet started a very slow progression for the next marker--the location of which had been disclosed in a data file that had automatically appeared on the Lord Marshal's system.

Within a day from the first marker Vaako had been infuriated by the information he was reading. By the second day he was even more disgusted and if he could blow up the marker again he would have ordered it himself. It didn't help that Pine also seemed to be getting aggravated by what was on the screens. Vaako had never seen the tech angry before; until then he wasn't even sure if Pine ever got mad.

"What are you going to do?" Pine asked him and Vaako knew the 'you' meant both him and the Lord Marshal as Pine sometimes had a tendency to see them as a joint entity.

"We hold until we get the core from the second marker," Vaako answered. "Can you do that without telling Gage?"

Pine was quiet. When he finally did speak it was just above a whisper. "Gage will know something is bothering me," he stated. "He always knows."

Vaako nodded and called for the commander in charge of their guard before turning to Pine with a, "Why don't you and Merc go see what Mina is making in our kitchen while I talk to Gage."

He had to smile as Pine all but bolted out the door. Gage walked into the room a few moments later, his face betrayed nothing but Vaako was almost positive the captain of their guard was intrigued in what could cause his lover to run from a room that contained the console that controlled all the data systems in the fleet.

"My Lord?" Gage asked.

Vaako reached over to the console and typed in a command and then gestured for Gage to sit in the chair that Pine had vacated. Half an hour later and not even a quarter through the content Vaako had queued up for him to read Gage shoved his chair back and stood.

"Are there more?" Gage asked.

"Each Lord Marshal since Oltovm has left these floating markers on the approach to the planet Covu called Asylum. Since Oltovm introduced the markers I'm sure he included some of Covu's files and information within his."

"What is the Lord Marshal going to do with the information?" Gage asked.

Vaako quirked an eyebrow at the question as it was not Gage's place to ask, but then Riddick had encouraged his staff and guard to not just be followers. He was about to ask Gage what he thought should be done with it when Riddick leaned in the doorway.

"What should I do with the information that has pissed off everyone that's read it?" Riddick asked.

"Leak it," Gage replied without hesitation. "Just like you did the other files."

"Vaako?" Riddick asked him.

He nodded. "Though, I would wait to see what the next marker has," he answered. "We need to verify Zhylaw and Kryll's files. See what of Baylock's files Kryll left with his marker after his visit to the Underverse."

Riddick pushed away from the wall. "Your call," he said. "But compile something small for our people to read so they don't get hit with it all at once."

"Do you want to finish reading or wait?" Vaako asked Gage.

"I'll wait or ask Pine," Gage said, bowing his head slightly before leaving the room.

Vaako stretched. "What are you thinking in that Furyan mind of yours?"

He watched as Riddick walked around the console to stand between his legs. The Furyan placed his hands on the arms of his chair and leaned down so he was looking directly into his eyes and grinned. "Stir things up even more," Riddick whispered before kissing him.

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

Riddick rolled them both to the training mat then stretched out on top of his partner to keep Vaako from springing back to his feet. The knowledge stored in the third and fourth marker had been worse than the other two. The segments that were being leaked to the other ships were having varying reactions.

The Axe was just as fanatical as it had been before. Lady Ano becoming their defacto leader. The Claw seemed to be siding with the Axe on the belief that it didn't matter where or how the Necromongers came into existence, it was still their mission to convert or kill all life in this Universe. The Wake and Rage were willing to follow the Lord Marshal. The rest of the fleet was truly split, as were the Purifiers.

There were some who wanted to be released from Necroism and return to their homes if they still existed. There were others who were comfortable with being converted because it took away pains they no longer had to face. And finally there were some that just wanted to enter the Threshold to find their place in the UnderVerse.

"I know you are frustrated Garrett," Riddick said, his silver eyes staring into his lover's hazel ones.

"My family was killed because a mad man turned against his own religion and people. They tortured him in return until he could feel nothing and murdered his family on top of it all. Do you even think he was sane enough to care about his family at that point? Maybe he just wanted the entire universe to be as dead as he was inside."

Riddick shifted so that he was straddling Vaako's waist. "I don't know," he answered honestly. "He must have felt something since he took their bodies with him."

"And each Lord Marshal after that has added or changed something to make us their weapons. We convert or die, but we're still alive. What does that make any of us?" Vaako pushed at his chest with enough force that Riddick actually swayed slightly. "Get off me Riddick."

Riddick put his hands down on the mat by Vaako's head and leaned down. "Not until I'm sure you are still with me," he whispered, huskily. "Not until you've gotten it all off your chest."

Vaako looked up at him challengingly. "You are a bastard," Vaako said with no heat while his hands softly squeezed Riddick's thighs. "I am always with you, even when you are being a jackass."

Riddick grunted and brushed his lips against Vaako's before moving his lips to Vaako's ear and whispering. "The rest of it."

"If the Elementals had gotten involved sooner the Necromonger race might have ended with Baylock while the Necros were fighting the Carthodox. They might not have sent Aereon and her damn prophecy. Acroba would still be alive. Furya, your family...all of our lives might have been different."

"You converted," Riddick said.

Vaako closed his eyes, the pain evident on his face. "I didn't want to die. Even after my first purification I thought I might get my chance at revenge. Then they sent me for another round and I let it all go. Until you came into my life."

Riddick straightened. "I'll make sure you get your revenge," he said, his fingers gliding over Vaako's throat and chest.

"Kryll and Zhylaw were never fully human to begin with and their powers didn't all come from the Threshold. Kryll was part Elemental and Zhylaw killed him to cover up their shared secret. Didn't help that Zhylaw was also part Carthodox. That's why Zhylaw believed Aereon's calculations. He chose to become what he hated because he saw the chance for more power. To rule the universe. To rule all the universes."

"Tell me what you want Garrett."

"We destroy it all. All the markers, Asylum--the planet that started it all, the Threshold. All of it."

Riddick grinned and leaned back down until he was mere centimeters from Vaako's mouth. "We can do that," he promised with a kiss.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

Three days later the fleet entered orbit around Asylum. Riddick sat on the throne in the Necropolis, Vaako at his side sitting on a section of the stone slab that supported the throne. Their guard stood around them while Pine and Mina sat on the highest step that led up to the throne. The hellhounds, including Storm's four puppies--something Riddick still growled at Eve about, lay on the stone floor near their guard and staff. Aereon hovered off to the side.

The Necropolis was filled with people, most from the Basilica. Riddick looked around the room then said, "Transfer the view to the center of the room."

The air above the center of the chamber shimmered and then a view of the planet below appeared. "Start the Ascension Protocol," he ordered, even as some in the room began to protest.

Just like on Hades, the icons slammed into the ground with enough force that about a fourth of it was now buried underground. Each icon towered nearly three hundred feet into the air, even the one that had landed next to the original location of the Necropolis. Mere seconds later a ball of energy formed above each icon and shot upward, hovering over the devices, ready.

"Final Protocol," Riddick ordered clearly. A small section of the floor in front of the throne twisted open and the plunger-like device--similar to the one in Navigation, rose from the slot.

Riddick stood from the throne and approached the device and grinned as he gave the order even as he depressed the plunger. "Execute."

As with every other planet where that word had been spoken, the energy clouds rose upward a bit more before falling back toward the icons. The icons started to glow and tremble and then sent out blast waves that covered the planet's surface. The shockwaves ripped through the planet's mountains and oceans removing all evidence that the Necromongers had begun their faith and conquest of the known universe from this planet.

"You will pay for that," Lady Ano's voice rang out in the Grand Hall. "The Threshold will see you destroyed."

Riddick retook his seat. "We'll just have to wait and see. Clear the hall," he ordered. "Return to your places and ships. We will arrive at the Threshold in one week."

As the Grand Hall cleared the hellhounds began to run and play on the ornate tile floor and Riddick heard Aereon's quiet whisper of "the end is soon".

"What would you like for dinner tonight, my Lords," Mina asked as she stood a few minutes later.

"Your spiced meat, vegetables and that fresh baked sweet bread you make," Riddick answered.

"As you wish, my Lords," she bowed her head slightly before starting down the stairs. Thesa and Max and one of the hellhound puppies followed her.

Riddick stood from the throne. "Pine," he ordered, "send the last set of the historical files."

"As you wish, my Lords," Pine replied before leaving the hall. This time Gage and Merc followed.

"The rest of you are dismissed as well," Riddick told the rest of his guard. "And Eve, take the rest of the hounds with you."

"As you wish, my Lords," Eve answered, grinning even as she gave them a little bow.

"You too, Aereon."

The Elemental glanced at the two men still in the Hall before gliding from the room.

Riddick turned to face his still seated partner. "Well?" he asked.

"I think we're almost there."

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

Vaako was in Navigation when the fleet reached the Threshold. "I was expecting something more," he said under his breath. The Furyan's snort from several feet behind him told him Riddick had clearly heard him and was amused. He ignored it even as he felt the other man move closer to him.

The Threshold was a black hole. Beautiful and dangerous as any black hole, but a black hole nonetheless. The sensors reported there were several derelict ships spiraling toward the event horizon. Just outside the reaches of the black hole's gravitation field and attached to one of five large planetoids that bordered the field was an observation station--the platform of the Guardian and his legion.

"It explains how a person could believe he was gone longer than he was," Riddick pondered aloud.

"The radiation could explain the gifts." There was clearly sarcasm in Vaako's voice on the word gifts. "The madness the person came back with too," Vaako added.

Vaako watched as Riddick prowled around Navigation and stopped to read the scans of the observation station again. They hadn't exactly come to an agreement on what to do with the station--did they go over and see if the Guardian was real or did they blow it out of the sky? What was odd in the whole matter was that he was the one, and not Riddick, voting to just blow it up and be done with it.

A signal on the data pad he had with him meant Pine had successfully breached the data core on the observation station and had begun copying the content. A second beep and the information began to relay to his pad.

"My Lords," Commander Par called. "The Axe and Claw are breaking formation and are on course for the Threshold."

"The Threshold and not the station?" Vaako asked.

"Yes, my Lord."

Vaako turned to look at Riddick. "Want to stop them?"

"Do you think they would listen?"

Vaako gave his head a little shake and sighed. "No."

"Then let them try."

"My Lords," Commander Par called again. "The station seems to be powering up a weapons' system." The commander looked down at his counsel and then added, "It is targeting only the lead vessel--the Claw, sir."

"Are the Axe and Claw still trying to enter the Threshold or have they stopped their forward movement?"

"The Claw has slowed, but the Axe is passing them and has hit the edge of the gravitational field."

Two bright beams of light shot from the side of the observation station and hit the Axe along its centerline. The beams scored several deep horizontal grooves across the Axe's side and at least one of them punctured the hull. The Axe began to vent atmosphere and seemed to shudder in place for a second before rolling towards the left. Then the black hole's gravity began pulling on the frigate and within seconds it was being pulled to pieces.

"Has the Claw reversed course?" Vaako asked.

"No, my Lord," Commander Par replied. "It seems to be fighting the gravitational pull."

Vaako stared closer at the image being shown on the floor. "Is the station charging its weapons?"

"No, my Lord."

"It doesn't need to," Riddick responded. "It knows the Claw is trapped. It knows we can't go in and pull it out without also becoming trapped. It's a perfect little web."

"Sir, the other ships would like to know what they should do," Avem, the specialist assigned to Navigation's Quasi Dead said.

"Tell them to hold where they are and not to try approaching the Threshold or the station unless they want to be destroyed or become just as trapped as the Claw," Vaako ordered.

"The Judgment is arguing, sir," Avem reported.

"I knew that ship was going to be a problem," Riddick commented, stalking towards the Quasi Dead.

Vaako raised an eyebrow as Riddick began to quietly whisper to the Quasi Dead. He gave his head a small shake when Riddick looked over at him and grinned. The man knew how to be creative with a threat.

"Now can we blow this popsicle stand," Vaako said, using a saying Riddick was rather fond of. "Or do you still want to meet the infamous seven foot guardian and his horde of little soldiers?" he asked as Riddick came to stand next to him.

"Launch the icons," Riddick ordered. "One for each planetoid. The meteoroid field it will generate will make it impossible to get closer to the black hole without risking becoming trapped in its web. The Threshold will end here."

"Sir, the station is charging its weapons again."

"Are the icons in place yet?"

"Almost," Par responded.

"Avem," Vaako called, "have all the ships begin to back away to the outer hold marker." Vaako then turned to Par and ordered, "Back us away to half the distance."

"The icons are in place, my Lord."

"Execute," Riddick called.

Vaako watched as the five icons reached their destinations and began to charge. Moments later they released their massive shockwaves toward the planetoids. The planetoids seemed to almost shake in place for a moment before shattering outward. The observation station tried to fire but the blasts were absorbed by the shockwaves as the station broke apart.

"Not quite the minefield we had been hoping for," Vaako said, tilting his head to the side and looking at the asteroid field that contained rocks from mere centimeters in size to ones several kilometers in length.

"Not done yet," Riddick said with a grin as he walked towards one of the side stations and began tapping in various commands.

Several thousand circular devices fired from the Basilica. About three quarters of them made it all throughout the debris field and floated or attached themselves to nearby asteroids. The other quarter floated just at the start of the asteroid field. "Now we have a minefield," Riddick said.

"Par," Vaako said, "Regroup the fleet and take us back to Helion Prime. Cryo is optional for everyone this time. Just remind them the trip is rather long."

"Yes, my Lord."

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

"Those something you and Pine created?" Vaako asked when they were out in the hallway and on their way to their chambers.

"Yeah," Riddick grinned. "Modified your ground mines."

Vaako nodded and was quiet until they were past the command level. He grabbed Riddick's arm and tugged gently before letting go and heading toward one of the hidden passageway entry points. "I need to be lost for a little bit."

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

Riddick said nothing and just followed Vaako as he wandered through the dim passageways. He waited, knowing that eventually Vaako would voice whatever it was that had him deep in thought.

Nearly an hour later Vaako stepped into one of their bolt holes and sat down on the bench. Riddick stayed near the door and leaned against the wall. His eyes solely focused on his partner.

A few more minutes passed and Vaako finally said, "This all feels a little," he paused, obviously still looking for the right words. "Anticlimactic, I guess."

Riddick laughed and laughed even harder when he saw the expression on Vaako's face. He was still chuckling when he slid onto the bench next to Vaako. He squeezed Vaako's knee. "Wanta explain?"

Vaako sighed. "I don't know." But part of it, he knew, had to do with the fact that the Threshold was built up so much in Necromonger religion he had truly expected something almost mythical and what he had gotten instead was a black hole.

"I can find you a planet to invade or a moon to destroy," Riddick offered.

Vaako snorted. "Maybe later," he said. "I just thought..."

"That the universe would automatically correct itself and everything would instantly change."

Vaako rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Riddick. You're being an ass."

Riddick chuckled and shifted his body up and around so that his knees rested on the bench on either side of Vaako and he could sit on the other man's thighs. "Talk to me Garrett."

"I thought I would feel relief. That something in me would settle," Vaako continued. "That I should be more upset we lost the people on the Axe and the Claw."

Riddick lifted his hands from where they rested on Vaako's shoulders. One he tangled in Vaako's hair, the other he used to glide down the other man's face. "They made their choice and they chose badly," Riddick said calmly. "They would not have given up even if it meant destroying us all." Riddick leaned in closer. "And I would not have allowed that. Besides I like it here. Some of my favorite people live here. Even if the decor is still for shit."

He grinned when Vaako laughed and then leaned in to kiss his partner. Before too long the kissing turned into groping and Riddick pulled away. "I can think of better places than this for what we both want."

"In a moment," Vaako said, this time resting his hands on Riddick's shoulders. "We've released all the important information to the other ships. We've shown that Zhylaw wasn't what he appeared to be. We let our people make their own decision and we still lost two ships to false beliefs."

Vaako paused to take a deep breath and Riddick carefully watched his lover as he ordered his thoughts.

"I know we couldn't have stopped them," Vaako continued. "That people will believe what they will. That we will lose more people who wish to try and return to their lives."

Riddick interrupted. "There will always be people who will want to join so they can forget their lives and start fresh." Riddick tilted his head forward so that it rested against Vaako's. "Those people on the Axe and Claw were not our people, they had come to side with Ano. She is responsible for their deaths. Our people do not need the Threshold," Riddick finished.

"They need a strong leader," Vaako said, lifting his head to look into Riddick's eyes.

Riddick leaned in and kissed Vaako again. "That's you and me, Garrett."

"I know," Vaako said returning the kiss.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

They slipped out of the passageways one section over and two levels down from the Lord Marshal's hall. Riddick had found their guard got a little testy if they didn't see him and or Vaako coming and going at least a couple of times a day. Gage had asked why he'd even set up a guard if he wasn't going to let them do their job. So now, they only used the passageways directly connected to their chambers in emergencies or when they were keeping both the coming and going from their chambers a secret.

When they entered their corridor they could hear several people in the training room and stopped to observe. They watched as Thesa rolled to the ground taking Dev with her. The woman bounced back to her feet and then didn't even give the man a chance to get fully upright before sweeping his feet out from under him. "I think he does that on purpose," Vaako softly told him.

Riddick grinned. "I have no doubt," he said. He acknowledged the other two guards in the room before moving away from the door.

"Do you need to talk to Aereon?" Vaako asked him.

"No," Riddick said, gruffly. "She can wait, I have other plans and so do you."

Vaako gave a soft chuckle and Riddick knew his partner had just played him.

Even as they made the final turn that led to their chambers they could hear Mina. "Get in there, you beasts." The door to their chamber was open and Mina was trying to shove Shadow, Storm, and one of the puppies through the door.

"Mina?" Riddick asked, humor clearly evident in his voice.

The young woman started a little. When she began to turn the puppy tried to make a break for it but Vaako knelt down and caught the wiggling mass. Riddick heard her sigh. "They are all yours, my Lord."

Riddick chuckled. "In," he ordered and the two adult hounds dashed into the chamber.

"Your dinner is in the warm box, my Lords," Mina told them. "And contrary to what they want you to believe, the hounds have been fed."

"And this little one?" Vaako asked, cradling the now sleeping puppy.

Mina smiled. "All yours, my Lord," she said hopefully.

Riddick chuckled again. "Have a good evening, Mina."

Mina bowed her head slightly before walking the few meters to her own chambers where her own hellhound puppy was peeking its head around the doorframe watching everything. When she'd entered and the door had closed behind her Riddick turned back to see Vaako carefully carrying the puppy into their chambers before depositing it onto one of the large cushioned chairs in the sitting area. He sealed and locked their chambers before pulling his partner into their bedroom.

Several hours later, his arms embracing his lover, Riddick felt the blankets start to pull as the little hellhound puppy tried to climb onto the bed. "If I let you up I see issues in the future," he said softly.

Riddick wasn't surprised when the puppy ignored him and then made a successfully jump to get on the bed. It padded over towards Vaako's side before curling up with its head on Vaako's calf.

"Fine," Riddick said. "We'll deal with you later."

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

On approach, Helion Prime didn't look much different than last time. The planet didn't start to look different until the ships broke through the atmosphere and then the partial destruction and the conquest icons could still be seen. It had been just over eighteen months since Helion Prime had been treated to a visit by the Necromonger fleet. Now most thought they had come to finish the job. The populace was surprised when the huge Necromonger icons were pulled from the ground before seven large ships landed where eleven had before.

The populace waited for air strikes and marching soldiers, but none came. This time when the ships extended their outer stairs to the ground below they saw only unarmed men and woman disembarking, some previous residents of Helion Prime, but most not. It wasn't until a little boy ran towards the father he thought he had lost and the father dropped to his knees to embrace the young child did others begin to understand that something had changed.

One little girl, her hand tightly around the necklace that had once been her father's, stood on the balcony of her family home and whispered, "Riddick" into the evening air.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

"We're losing more than a full frigate's worth of people," Vaako said putting the data pad down on the dining room table.

"Would you have preferred they stayed?"

Vaako rolled his eyes. "No, and you know that." He grabbed the last sweet roll right off Riddick's plate for even asking him such an absurd question. "What we need to decide," he said while pulling the roll apart and handing Riddick half of it. "Is are we going to haul around an empty frigate or scrap it now for materials and leave the rest for the populace of the planet to use to rebuild with."

"How are the other retrofits going?" Riddick asked. The hydro-levels on all the ships were being doubled and several other sections were being expanded. A lot of the useless and macabre statues were being converted or changed. The artists and metal workers among the working class were enjoying the creative freedom. No one expected bright and cheery, but the twisted emaciated bodies were slowly becoming a thing of the past.

"On schedule. We'll be off the planet before the deadline Aereon negotiated with the planet's leaders, even if we take the time to break down the Judgment."

Riddick leaned back in his chair. "Space for new converts?"

"Plenty," Vaako answered. "We were below quota the first time we were here; and that includes the three dozen or so we got back after Zhylaw left them stranded here. Even if half the people who left decide to come back we'd still have plenty of space."

Riddick took a sip from his mug. "You think some will come back?"

"I think some will seek us out because they can't recapture what they thought they had lost."

Riddick grinned. "Very insightful of you."

Vaako snorted and stretched back in his chair. "Gage wants to know if Aereon will continue to travel with us?" Vaako asked, changing the subject at hand.

"Lady says she wants to see what we do next, so we're not rid of her yet," Riddick answered. "But, he can relax our people watching her unless she makes a request for a guard."

Vaako typed into the data pad. "Dev and Baxen will be happy to hear they are off Elemental duty. Pine and Mina?"

"They still get their shadows," Riddick replied as the hellhound puppy tumbled over its own feet and into the room. "Not everyone is happy with the changes we are making and that still makes them targets."

The puppy stopped at Vaako's chair and lifted its front paws to rest on his thigh. "You need a name," Vaako said, looking down at the puppy.

"She needs to stay off the bed," Riddick commented.

"You mean she needs to learn to listen to you."

"Same thing."

Vaako laughed.

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

Not everyone in the fleet was happy with the changes being made. But then, not everyone had been happy as they read through all the data the other Lord Marshals had kept squirreled away, or the fact that many of the changes to the Necromonger faith had been made for personal reasons and not because the Threshold had declared it.

The Purifiers were still in business because Vaako had been right, not everyone was happy with who they could be when they weren't being zapped at least once a week. Some went once a month; others even less, or never again after being converted.

Riddick opened the classing system, much to the current nobles disdain. But he didn't outright change anyone's status. If a worker wanted to enter the military and could pass the skill requirements, he or she was free to do so. If someone in the ranks wanted into the new unconstrained working class because they were a better mechanic than soldier, so be it. There were now master welders and seamstresses because others in that profession recognized the person's skills and wanted to learn from the person. And sometimes those master positions matched or even surpassed a few of the noble ranks.

There were still challenges for position. Some even ended in death as "keep what you kill" was a hard concept for the Necromongers to lose. Riddick set no limits save one, "don't touch what's his." So far, only three had tried and none had made it within yards of their intended targets.

New converts came in, like Vaako predicted, and old ones sometimes found their way back.

Riddick by no means became sedentary in his life as Lord Marshal. He still liked to play cat-and-mouse games with mercs and bounty hunters. Much to the annoyance of his personal guard and Vaako.

"You are an adrenaline junkie," Vaako told him.

"Pot and kettle there since you were with me this time."

The conversation ended as it always did, with food, sex and a shower--only the order of things changed.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

"Do you want to go to Furya?" Vaako asked. "The records show that no icon was ever deployed there. You said in your dreams there were graves. Graves mean someone had to bury the dead."

"I haven't had one of those since I became Lord Marshal. Plus, not all that into that spiritualistic dream stuff." Riddick rolled them over so he could look into Vaako's face. "But maybe later," he said. The Necromongers had become a place where lost souls could find a home and a place to start over. "I have everything I could want right here."

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