“Then don’t wiggle it.” he replied, tossing a fist sized rock up in the air and catching it one-handed.
“But that means that the tooth fairy will come.” she said proudly.
“There’s no such thing as the tooth fairy.”
“Daddy says that if bad things are real, then so are the good things. Even the tooth fairy.”
Riddick smiled at her innocence. She had such a way of looking at the world, despite the circumstances of her birth on this dust ball of a planet. She was too young to quite understand what Shirah had meant about her real daddy having been mean. Riddick had been witness to what could happen to women and girls on colony and settlement worlds…
Just then, a group of boys came barreling down the alley. “Protectors!” one of them yelled.
Esmina only looked at Riddick with confusion as he grabbed her by the hand and dragged her down the alley after the boys. “Move it, Mina!” he cried. Behind them they could hear shouts and screams as the Protectorate forces made their way through the streets. The boys ahead dove into hiding places, only big enough for one. Riddick, still pulling Mina in tow, were left to push on.
“Riddick, what’s going on?” Esmina asked, scared but trying not to show it.
“Recruitment.” he replied.
They rounded a corner, running into a man coming from the other way. Instinctively, Riddick put himself between him and Esmina. “Thank god!” Richard breathed, pulling both children to him. “Come on!” He clutched Esmina to him in one arm, the hand of his other locked around Riddick’s wrist as he lead him along.
They hurried down a side street before ducking into another alley to avoid a second squad of Protectorate troops, their sole goal being to make it to the mercantile. Richard had proof of Esmina’s identity, but they had nothing for Riddick. The best they could do would be to hide him.
Making it to the back door, Richard threw it open and pushed both children inside the mudroom, firmly closing and locking the door after them. As he ushered them into the kitchen, voices could be heard coming from the front of the store. Rough voices with an antagonistic tone as the men who went with them could be heard rifling through the shelves and racks.
“Please don’t, this is all we have.” Shirah protested. Riddick could only see the two men who were ransacking the store, taking things they wanted and shoving them into their pockets. He could only assume that another kept Shirah backed to the wall.
“Then what else you got?” The man who Riddick couldn’t see demanded. “’Cause I’ve had my eye on something else…”
“I have a family.” Shirah whispered.
“Then you had better make this quick.” the man hissed, and the sound of his belt buckled could be heard.
“Momma?” Esmina called, darting out before Richard could catch her.
The other two men did, however; heading her off as she tried to get to her mother behind the counter. “Well, look what we have here!” one of them crowed. “Such a sweet young thing this one is!” he held Esmina about the waist as he hefted her into the air, the girl struggling and kicking.
“No!” Shirah screamed. “I’ll do anything you want, but please don’t hurt her!” There was absolute terror in her voice, but not for her own well-being.
Riddick stiffened, preparing to lunge out there, but Richard held him back. The man’s fingers dug painfully into his shoulders, evidence of his own anger and fear.
“Shut your eyes, baby.” Shirah pleaded, fighting back tears.
“Momma!” Esmina protested, continuing to struggle.
“Shut up and shut your eyes!” Shirah bellowed, even as a knife had been drawn and pressed to her daughter’s throat.
“You do a good enough job, then maybe we’ll let you live long enough to watch.” the man holding Esmina giggled, licking the girl’s cheek.
“NO!” Riddick roared, wrenching free of Richard’s grasp and charging out into the room.
With a strength and quickness unexpected of a nine-year old, he barreled into the man holding Esmina, tackling him to the floor while knocking the knife away at the same moment. Then, as the second man neared, Riddick sweep kicked his legs out from under him before kicking him in the face.
Shirah struck out at her would be rapist, delivering several blows to the abdomen and chest before smashing his head into the counter. With a bound, she then leapt onto the counter and launched herself from it toward the only man still conscious. He had just picked up the knife when Shirah landed. She lunged, beginning to grapple with him as Richard moved to pull him away. Once he had been subdued, Shirah lay panting on her hands and knees.
As Riddick fetched some rope, Esmina hurried over to her mother. “Momma!” she sobbed. Sitting up, Shirah held one arm out to her daughter, hugging her ribs with the other. Blood dripped from her nose and the corner of her mouth. “Momma, you’re hurt.” Esmina said.
“I’ll be okay, baby.” Shirah said quietly. “Are you okay?”
“Mina, sweetie, go to the kitchen and get some water.” Richard instructed, the girl doing as she had been told.
“Oh, Richard.” Shirah whispered, tears streaming down her face.
“How bad is it?” he asked, his face twisted in worry.
In response, she took her hand away from her ribs. Crimson already stained her shirt with fresh fluid flowing readily. “He hit the aorta.” she said softly.
“Okay, just lay back, and I’ll go get help.” Richard insisted.
Shirah shook her head. “There’s no time. Take care of them.”
The color was rapidly draining from her face as a red puddle spread ever wider. “I love you.” her voice barely a whisper before her eyes drooped closed.
“Shirah! No, no. Shirah, baby?” Richard sobbed, shaking her as he sought any signs of life. There were none.
No sooner had the metal cup clattered to the floor than Esmina was throwing herself down on Shirah’s side. “Momma? Momma!” she wailed. Richard could only pull her into his arms and hold her tight.
Riddick could only breath. His chest heaved with every breath as he held his hands in tightly balled up fists. She was dead. The closest thing to a mother that he had ever known was dead.
With a bellow of rage, Riddick began swinging at the bound man, hitting him with his fists over and over again. He refused to let up. Until he saw the knife. Picking it up, he then used both hands to plunge it into the man’s chest.
Richard could only watch in horror, doing his best to shield Esmina from the sight. “Riddick, what have you done?”
The boy didn’t answer, merely wiped his hands on his pants before leaving the store.
It wouldn’t be for another ten years before Riddick would see Esmina and Richard again.
He had set down on a small Ag world. A back water moon, it had terraced rises built into the many hillsides. He hadn’t planned to stop there, except that he needed some parts for the ship that he recently ‘acquired’. No doubt they would ask questions, but a farm world was more likely to believe that it was a second-hand clunker.
His boots thunked against the wood planking of the terrace walkways. A hollow noise echoed by all the others that were walking by. They nodded, some smiling cautiously, in greeting as they passed before going on about their business. Strangers were not unusual, but this was clearly not a tourist spot.
One of the techs at the spaceport had told him of two mechanics shops, as well as of a couple of salvage dealers. Feeling confidant in his ability to make repairs himself, Riddick decided to check with the salvage dealers. Likely that was where the mechanics bought their parts from, anyhow.
The salvage shops were near the port, but there was one that was on the other side of town. He had been told that it was clean and respectable – meaning that the parts were good, if not exactly cheap. He only hoped that they didn’t keep up on the wanted sheets…
The building was small, made of brown clapboard. There were two windows, one on each side of the door, with nine panes of glass arranged in a grid pattern. The frames of the windows and the door had been painted white to match the “Salvage” sign. Riddick smiled. It looked more like a house than a store.
As he opened the door to step inside, a bell rang to announce his presence. “Coming” a girl’s voice chimed from the back room.
Riddick smirked. A Mom and Pop.
A girl just shy of seventeen came bounding out to the front. She wore boys clothes, which were smeared with grease and dirt. Her long, dark hair was held back in a loose braid, keeping it out of her face. She must have been in the back working.
“What can I help you with today-” her voice trailed off as her eyes narrowed with recognition. “Riddick?!”
“Mina.” he whispered, immediately regretting his choice to come here. “This was a mistake.”
“No, wait! Wait!” she protested, hot on his heels as she reached out to grab his hand. “Where have you been all this time?” Her eyes were bright with her excitement in seeing him again.
“Mina, I can’t stay…” he said softly, prying his arm from her grip. “What I’m doing, I can’t risk you getting involved in. I’m sorry.”
“So you’re just going to leave. Like you did before?”
“Goodbye, Mina.” he said as the door closed behind him with a clang.
He was almost down to the space port when he was jumped from behind. Riddick whirled, pulling a small shiv from within his sleeve and putting it to the neck of the man who had grabbed him. “You should be more careful.” he growled softly.
Richard held completely still, barely breathing as he held his empty hands aloft and away from him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing showing up here?” he demanded.
“I was just passing through. I needed some parts.”
“She was inconsolable after you left. Her mother had just died, and you just walked away. You were like a brother to her!” Richard hissed.
Riddick had since taken the shiv away from his neck. “I thought I was doing the right thing.” he whispered.
Richard shook his head. “She wants me to convince you to stay. I’ve seen the Wanted Sheets. You are no longer the boy I knew and you would only put her at risk. I want you to go.”
Riddick pursed his lips. “I was just on my way to another shop before I took off.”
“There’s no time. The authorities at the port are sure to have reported you by now. Leave now, and get as far away from here as you can. Please don’t come back.” And with that Richard turned and walked away.