"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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Funny how that
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.
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
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.
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
Not for me. Not for
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
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
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
Some kind of new
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
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.
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?"
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."
What the hell are you doing way out here?"
Before the man could
answer his radio came alive.
Report in. Green squad. Where are you, Murphy?"
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."
Dropping in for a pleasant chat in the middle of the fuckin night, wearing
night goggles and light units?"
The radio crackled
out there Riddick?"
Peck. Long time, Richard."
Riddick pulled the
microphone free from the man's headset.
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."
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
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
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."
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
he asked Jackie. She nodded in reply.
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'."
"That's more like
it," Peck said.
Troops appeared in the
doorway behind Riddick.
Peck asked over Riddick's shoulder.
right, sir. Gonna have a hell of headache, though."
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.