Pitch Black 2:   

      Darker Still

 

 

Chapter One

"This has to be the most God-forsaken planet in the galaxy," Frax Maia said, her eyes scanning the unremitting desolation surrounding the rag-tag hangar. A solid green cloud-cover hung low over rocky, scum-colored hills. "So awful. Why anyone would want to set up base here is beyond me, Mr. Paris."

The man sitting across the makeshift table from her laughed deeply, half from her appalled expression and half from being called THAT name. He couldn't get used to it, was all…his own private joke.

One thing he knew damn well, though…. there was at least one planet worse than this one…much worse -- the hellhole he had barely escaped from the last time he had been called by his real name: Riddick, Richard B., Slam ID 012P895.

"Suits me fine being millions of miles out of the shipping lanes," Riddick said. "Don't want any prying eyes for our kind of cargo, do we Ms. Maia?"

"How soon for delivery?" she asked.

"Well, that depends. A month ought to do it, I think."

Riddick glanced over Maia's shoulder, into the hangar. Jackie was busy at the computer console but she stopped and turned halfway around in her chair, trying hard not to laugh aloud at his hard-sell tactics.

"A month! I can't wait a month! This just won't do."

Riddick sprawled back in his chair and folded his hands tidily in front of him on the tabletop. "Well, there's always Interglax Shipping."

"You know very well I can't send this sort of…item…through regular channels!"

Riddick called across to Jackie. "How quickly do you think we could get this 'item' to Halmant Three?"

Jackie made a show of sifting through a stack of papers. It was Riddick's turn to suppress a laugh - he knew all the papers were blank.

"Lots of palms to grease, lots of extra fuel cells," Jackie said. "With an additional million or so we might be able to swing it in the Carolyn in three weeks."

Riddick flinched slightly, but not enough that Maia could have noticed. He'd let Jackie christen their ship the Carolyn even though every mention of the name slammed his mind's eye full of that image… of Fry… in his arms ...in the rain.

"That's blackmail!" Maia hissed.

Riddick made a show of removing his dark sunglasses and then he stared unblinking at Frax Maia for a good ten seconds. A sharp edge of terror crept into her eyes, as it always did.

Funny how that works, Riddick thought, especially since they all knew ahead of time what sort of man they'd be dealing with.

The woman couldn't withstand his intensity and dropped her eyes to her feet.

"How about a million extra for two weeks?" she finally said, almost in a whisper.

"Done," Riddick replied. "Have the 'item' here in two days, and the four million. And then try to forget you were ever on this Garden of Eden rock. For your own good."

Frax Maia nodded. She rose and turned to her skiff without a confirming handshake.

Guess she trusts me, Riddick thought, and he laughed aloud.

Jackie emerged from inside the hanger and they watched as Frax Maia's ship was swallowed by the green canopy overhead.

"Business is booming," Jackie said.

"I told you, kid," Riddick said, replacing his shades. "Stick by me and you'll go places."

-------------------

He lay wide-awake, listening to the deep, rhythmic breathing that signaled that Jackie was asleep on her cot. Riddick had never been much of a sleeper, but lately his insomnia had gotten worse … much worse.

Fry…in his arms …in the rain.

Not for me. Not for me.

SlamCity had taught him to always doze with one ear listening but, still, if he'd been asleep he probably wouldn't have heard the sound. It was that faint - a low-pitched hum …a lander, probably a half-mile off. He grabbed his shotgun and within five seconds he was in the door frame at the ready. He scanned the pitch darkness with his shined retinas.

Movement. Still a ways off. Shit, maybe twenty of them.

Probably mercs, or worse.

Like a night-beast he sprinted across the clearing outside the hangar and took up station in a wide crack that split an outcropping of rocks. The intruders walked steadily forward in tight groups of five. Once they were within a hundred yards of the hangar the groups fanned out, obviously planning to surround the building.

Silent as death. Can't be Slammers … too professional.

He thought perhaps that he should try to warn Jackie but decided against it.

They wouldn't be here looking for her.

A squad of five was headed his way, looking to circle the hangar and cover the far side. Riddick got a better look at them as they approached to within fifty feet. They all wore night goggles, and each had a square object - maybe two-feet on a side - strapped to his back, attached to a small hand-held unit via a short tube.

Some kind of new weapon? Riddick wondered. No matter. Night-vision units are clumsy; no match for a natural shine. He all but halted his breathing; waiting.

He was on the first two before they had a chance to react. A hard crack across the neck and both were out cold. The remaining three heard the sounds and turned, but their movements were human-slow, and in the dark Riddick was a phantom on speed.

A swift side-kick to the head sent another reeling backward into his squad leader. The pair fell in a heap and Riddick finished the jobs with a butt end of his shotgun to their heads.

"Green squad…green squad…we hav.."

Riddick tore the headset off the remaining invader before he could finish his warning to the others. Placing the man in a smothering headlock, he dragged him like a toy, back into the protection of the rocks.

"Yell one word and I'll blow your face off," Riddick said, holding the barrel of his shotgun flush against the man's temple. He watched for the approach of the other units, but they seemed frozen in place, trying to decipher the fractional message they had received. Riddick returned his attention to his captive's backpack.

Is that what I think it is? Not some kind of new weapon…it's a damn brightspot! They sure as hell knew who they were coming for.

"Who the fuck are you?" he asked roughly. "Some new Slam squad?"

"Up yours," the man replied, but quietly.

Riddick rammed his gun hard against the man's skull. "Do you know who you're fuckin with?" The man tried to pull away from the pain but Riddick held his head firmly against the cold steel. "Answer the question."

"GIA."

"GalaxIntell? What the hell are you doing way out here?"

Before the man could answer his radio came alive.

"Green squad. Report in. Green squad. Where are you, Murphy?"

"How about that?" Riddick said with a smirk. "They're worried enough about your ass to break radio silence."

"Our orders are to find you so the C.O. can talk to you. That's it."

"Talk, huh? Dropping in for a pleasant chat in the middle of the fuckin night, wearing night goggles and light units?"

The radio crackled again.

"Riddick….You out there Riddick?"

The voice…so familiar.

"Riddick, it's Peck. Long time, Richard."

Peck? Peck!!

Riddick pulled the microphone free from the man's headset.

"Come to apologize for hanging me out to dry when the shit hit the fan, Peck?"

Earth, eight years ago. He had been coerced into a covert op, either that or spend ten hard in the slam. Trouble was, they left him to take all the heat when the whole thing went bad and he'd gotten thirty instead.

"Let bygones be bygones, Richard. I'm just here to talk."

"Show yourself, Peck. I got something I've been meaning to give you for a long time."

Riddick shined the area. Two squads had hunkered down off to his left but the other two had disappeared behind the hangar and remained out of his sight.

Might have to go down shooting.

Suddenly the world was bright…too bright. The hangar lights flared on full just as the two squads to his left switched on their brightspot units.

With his free hand Riddick pulled his shades from his jacket and slipped them on, all in one quick motion. His captive thought he saw an opportunity to escape but Riddick clamped him firmly in the vise of his other crooked arm. He stopped struggling.

Instincts, Riddick thought. Even the surprise of the noise earlier hadn't prevented him from reflexively putting his shades into his pocket.

"Come on in, Richard," the radio said. "We're just getting to know your girlfriend here…she seems REAL nice."

Jackie.

Riddick considered his situation. Twenty-five armed men, no way off the planet. He could still get to the armory he had built in the hills for just such an emergency, but twenty-five to one wasn't very good odds, even with a shine. Peck wouldn't harm Jackie, that much he knew. No profit in it for him.

What's he here for? Nothing for him to gain in bringing in one escaped con.

Riddick decided. He pulled his hostage upright and marched him towards the hangar with the shotgun nestled against the small of the man's back.

Jackie sat on the edge of her cot, surrounded by ten agents with weapons drawn. Riddick shoved his hostage to his knees as they entered the hangar and stood with shotgun ready.

"You okay?" he asked Jackie. She nodded in reply.

"Touching…so touching." Peck had been shuffling through the paperwork stacked on Jackie's desk as Riddick had entered. He swiveled around in the chair and put his feet up on a nearby crate. "Must be the new, cuddly Riddick. I never heard the old one say any word but 'I'."

"Fuck you, Peck."

"That's more like it," Peck said.

Troops appeared in the doorway behind Riddick.

"The rest?" Peck asked over Riddick's shoulder.

"Everyone's all right, sir. Gonna have a hell of headache, though."

"Haven't lost your touch, Richard…excepting of course that you didn't kill anyone this time." Peck motioned towards the clutter on the desk behind him. "The smuggling business has been good to you."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Oh, drop the front, Richard. It doesn't become you. I've had my eyes on you for several months now."

Riddick's mind was bouncing around the room. He's known for that long? Why did he wait so long to swoop? What's his angle?

"Just take me and leave the girl. You got what you came for." I've escaped before.

"Au contraire, Richard. I said I just wanted to talk and I meant what I said. I want you to join me on another expedition."

"We got nothing to talk about. You fucked me over once, plain and simple. I'd go back to Slam before I'd work for you."

Peck got up and walked over to where Jackie sat. She turned away from his hand but he grabbed her chin roughly and angled her face towards him.

"You got off that damned planet, too, did you? And what of your compatriots? The Hunter-Gratzner's distress signal was finally traced and a rescue ship reached the planet. They were lucky to escape with their lives." He released her and turned to Riddick. "Monsters, they said. A planet full of monsters. Figured we'd seen the last of you, Richard. But I wasn't too surprised to find out otherwise."

"I told you I'd see you torn in two before I died," Riddick said.

"So you did…so you did. Still, here we are, on the same team again."

"The same team? You're wasting your fuckin breath, Peck."

Peck signaled to one of his men and the agent carried a box over to the desk and snapped it open, revealing a compact video unit.

"I have something you need to see, Richard."

The PlasmaDisc started and images flickered on the screen. A news tape, from Earth. Riddick stared in horror as he saw…himself.

"Earlier today escaped murderer Richard Riddick was apprehended in New Tokyo," the newscaster's voice said. "Riddick had been on the run from authorities ever since his deadly escape from SlamCity over a year ago. He is on his way tonight back to that maximum security prison, with sixty more years added to his previous sentence, assuring that he will remain incarcerated for the rest of his life."

"You'll never get away with it, Peck," Riddick yelled. "There are safeguards…"

"Oh, it'll work well enough. Not too much sympathy for Richard Riddick on Earth these days. No one will look too closely."

Jackie had stood watching the report, transfixed. Her mouth moved, but no sounds emerged apart from a weak "how?"

"Oh, she doesn't know about Thomas?" Peck asked, amused. "Your boyfriend here never mentioned he has a twin brother?"

"Why're you doing this, Peck? Thomas never hurt anyone."

"All the more reason you won't want to see him in Slam, Richard. Some of your old hole-mates probably itching to say 'hello' to him."

Thomas. He'd never survive.

Riddick raised his shotgun and sighted on Peck's chest.  Twenty agents aimed their weapons in unison but Peck stilled them with a wave of his hand.

"Help us and he's free, Richard."

Riddick glared at Peck, his jaw clenched, eyes narrowed behind his shades, wishing with all his soul that he could pull the trigger. Be rid of the bastard for good. So what if I die? Thomas…well, Riddick had had to fend for himself after they were separated at birth. Thomas had had a good life - loving parents, college, a good career. That could just as well have been me. Maybe Thomas should have to share the pain….

Fry…in his arms…in the rain.

Riddick lowered his aim and flung the shotgun into the far reaches of the room.

"What do you need me to do?" Riddick asked.

Peck brushed the papers off the top of the desk and unfolded a map. Riddick moved to stand across from him, his eyes drinking in the details, until he noticed Peck staring silently at him.

"The Riddick I knew would have shot me where I stood," Peck said, and then returned his attention to the desktop.