...And Back Again
A Sequel to "The Faithful" and "Three for the Money"
*UNSAFE DIVE ANGLE. READJUST?*
Cappy swallowed hard. He pressed “cancel” and sat back. Quick and mostly painless. There were already more people on board than he cared to deal with. He didn’t know what he’d do with them, let alone a pack of men well-schooled in the ways of violence. The two stupid bastards he’d brought along couldn’t take them on with any real hope of succeeding. Better this way. Safer. Smash them against the planet, go down later and pick up what was left if any of it was worth a crap.
He looked at the screen. The warning continued to blink at him. Accusing.
God forgive me.
A woman’s voice, heavily accented, shouted from the com. It was echoed further aft, filling the ship. He had no idea who she was or what she was saying.
“What in the good goddamn? Speak English!”
She ignored him and babbled on in the steady, measured speech of an artificial thing. Cappy stood and marched down the hall toward the coolers. “For the love of...”
In the hold, Herry Blake was yelling back.
“Wats, you dumbass!” Cappy hollered. “Get in there and shut that son of a bitch up!”
As Cappy approached the cooler, Wats jogged toward him from the other direction, holding his rifle in one hand and struggling to zip up his fly with the other.
“I was just--”
“I don’t want to know.” Cappy pounded on the wall. “Shut up, Blake!”
Other voices through the vent. The women were yelling. Reggie sounded all shrill the way she got when she was excited about something. Or scared. He should have separated the lot of them. Spaced them. Shot them. Dammit. His conscience was back on the Death Maiden, but he could feel the guilt from here. Jasper, that bloody pacifist.
“Cappy!” Reggie’s voice. “Open the door!”
He pushed the bolt aside and shoved the door open, knocking Reggie back. “Shut your holes, all of you!”
The man against the far wall moved to get his feet under him. Wats took aim. “Stay down!”
“John, please!” said Reggie. “Don’t do this!”
“How in the hell do you know what I’m doing, little girl?”
“There are people on that ship that never did a thing to you!” Her voice cracked. Tears pooled in her eyes, overflowed.
“Some of them did, though, didn’t they?”
Jack stepped away from the wall but didn’t approach. “You’re going to kill them all because your girlfriend was a whore?” she yelled.
The voice overhead interrupted with another string of incomprehensible blather. Blake opened his mouth to respond and Cappy drew his pistol.
“Don’t you say a word, or so help me I will blow your damn head off. You tell that bitch to speak English, and then you tell her not touch anything.”
Blake held his hands up, backed up to the wall. “Okay, already. Jesus. Take it easy. Pri! Otpuska--!”
Cappy jerked the trigger and the shot drowned out the rest. Blake let out a yelp and went down. Something hit Cappy hard in the face and stars burst in his vision. He mumbled a curse as his eyes teared up and he stumbled backward. He hit the corner of the doorframe with his shoulder and spun out of the room. Wats followed, hit the floor on his side and didn’t move. The rifle was gone. Only a few seconds passed before Cappy saw it again.
Tyler Solomon was pointing it at his head. Cappy tossed the pistol away and held his hands in the air. His foot bumped against something that rolled away across the deck. He glanced downward. The floor was littered with apples.
* * *
“It ain’t happening, Mad.”
Marty nodded and wiped the sweat out of his eyes with one sleeve. “Go.”
Wilkins slid out from under the dash and scrambled out of the cockpit. Marty heaved himself out of the seat and followed, his legs aching and complaining about the incline. The dash let out a bing! and he whirled so fast he nearly landed on his rear end in the aisle. The engaged steering shuddered and began to tilt. He dove for it, grabbed the yoke with both hands and held it steady. He tried to pull up, to level them out. The Belle wasn’t having it.
He let go with one hand and reached for the throttle, pulled back on it slowly. The engines eased off but the ship kept falling. He engaged the air brakes. Slowly, gently. Something rumbled and ground and finally blew in the ship’s guts and the Belle started to spin. His hand slipped off the controls and he was thrown against the wall. Hard thump as his shoulder hit, bright flash as his head followed.
The radio spewed static. The static resolved itself into a voice. “Can anybody hear me?”
“Reg?” He groped for the yoke and got hold of it again. Tried to steady the ship. He could barely steady himself.
The Belle broke through the cloud cover and Marty saw the ground. “Jesus.”
“Martin, are you there?”
“Yeah, sweetheart. But I’ve gotta go.”
“Go where? Martin, we were boarded. Cappy, he shot Herry--”
He swallowed panic. The remote wouldn’t have shut off, she wouldn’t be talking to him, but he asked anyway. “You okay?”
“We are, now. But--”
“I’ll call you right back, then. I-- right back, honey.” He hauled himself up and ran. Sharp pain in his head each time his feet hit the deck. Dammit. The wife had warned him to avoid cracking his skull. Should have listened.
The truck idled in the small hold, straining hard against the straps that held it in place. Marty smacked the button and the ramp started down. Wind roared across the opening, tugged at his clothes. He’d done this same thing once already today. Only now they were four hundred and fifty meters from the ground. The floor shifted under him. The Belle was starting to tumble along with the spin. They might not be able to get the truck out at all.
Marty dashed in front of the vehicle, wincing as it strained loudly against the front tie-downs. The straps were hooked beneath the truck, out of reach since gravity had rolled it forward. He threw open the door and slid behind the wheel. The windows were down and the panel between cab and bed was open just like he’d asked.
Riddick nodded, said nothing.
“Cut the back loose.”
Marty stood on the brake pedal and threw the truck into reverse while Riddick shouted the order to the men in the back. The truck inched forward against the straps.
“Go,” said Riddick.
Marty floored the accelerator and lifted his foot off the brake. The tires squealed and the truck moved back until the front straps were visible. He drew his sidearm and nodded to Riddick. Then leaned out the side and aimed.
He counted, and on three they fired. The straps broke and the truck bumped backward over the ramp and shot out into the air. The spin skewed their angle and the truck began to roll over almost immediately. Marty reached under the dashboard and grabbed hold of the large, metal loop there. He twisted it sideways and pulled back.
A sound like the flutter of gigantic wings and the truck jerked in the air, righting itself. Surprised sounds from the back. One of the women let out a shriek. Or hell, he laughed, maybe it was Wilkins. They were still going down, but the parachutes attached to the truck’s sturdy frame were slowing their descent.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” he whispered. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done up here as it is at Airborne Systems Limited...”
Riddick stared at him. “You bought the fucking jump pack?”
“If somebody offered you the chance to drop this bitch of out the sky, you’d take it, too, brother.” Marty smiled, but didn’t feel the humor. The side of his face ached, the little bright spot was back at the corner of his eye.
“No shit.” Riddick peered out the window. “We’re still going down in a fucking hurry, here, Cap.”
“I know.” There wasn’t a thing they could do about it. Maybe if everyone leaned out and flapped their arms at once?
Marty cut the engine and listened to the air whistle past the windows. Boom in the distance as the Belle hit. She disappeared in a cloud of dust and pieces of twisted metal bounced away. “Thank God I got her used.”
Marty glanced down through the open window. It felt all kinds of wrong to be up this high in something with wheels and no wings. His stomach flopped and he fought the urge to throw up. Too high. Not high enough. They were low enough that he could make out details. What few there were. Most pieces of this damn place looked just like the others. Rocks, dirt, rocks...
He turned and blinked at Riddick. “Fine,” he said. “I’m fine.” He shifted around to kneel on the seat and stuck his head through to the back. They sat on the benches that lined both sides of the bed, gripping the straps over their heads. “We’re bound to land with a touch of force, here. When we do, get out and get as far from the truck as you can.”
Nods all around. The woman with the blue eyes looked a question at him that he didn’t have time to answer. It dawned on him that he hadn’t even asked her name. Christ, he felt sick.
“Cap,” said Riddick.
“You might want to sit down.”
“Might want to do that, too.”
Marty dropped back onto the seat. He grabbed the belt, pulled it around and snapped it into place in one smooth motion. The hills on the horizon drew even with his line of sight. A moment of near-silence before they hit.
The truck landed square on its wheels, bounced, and began to tip to one side. Protesting creaks. Thumps and clanks of shifting equipment. Terrified human sounds. Riddick threw himself across the cab, half into Marty’s lap.
I’m not that kind of girl.
Pain, sudden and fierce, like someone had speared his skull. The horizon began to fall back toward the horizontal. But it was fading.
“Room service?” asked Fenster.
Mackey just looked at him.
Fenster shrugged, tried to scratch under his cast. “Works in the movies.”
“We don’t even know if she’s here.”
They stood on polished marble behind a fluted column in the lobby of the Thessaly Regent, trying to look inconspicuous. The hotel was the largest on the station. The most expensive, too. There were shops on one side of the lobby, a fountain in the center. He glanced at Fenster, who was nodding and watching him take the place in.
“Oh yeah, Garve. She’s here somewhere,” said Fenster. “I can smell it.”
“Uh huh.” Mackey eyed him. “I smell something, too.”
“No faith, man.”
Mackey’s eyes flicked between the glass walled front entrance and the bank of elevators to their left. “You thought she was at the Hyatt.”
Fenster waved his good hand at him. “Details, Garve. Twenty bucks says she’s here.”
“Will you--” Mackey began. He looked sideways at Fenster and blew out his breath. “Fine. Go do your thing.”
“Yessir, Mr. Boss Man, sir.”
Mackey ignored him and pressed a finger to the small device in his ear. “Test,” he said.
“What are you wearing, baby?” Fenster whispered.
“You’ve got a problem. You really do.”
Fenster crossed the lobby to the front desk. It was a big, semi-circular thing with naked nymphs in white stone cavorting across the front. He set his hands on the marble counter top. She smiled and him, leaned toward him over the counter, exposing a good bit of cleavage. The man had a gift.
“Can I help you, sir?” Flirtation in her voice.
“I’d like to leave a message for one of your guests.”
“Certainly. Do you have their room number?”
“You know, I don’t remember it. I’m sure it was one of the higher floors. The real--” Fenster made broad motions with his hands and whistled. “--the real woo-woo, hoity-toity suites, you know?”
She laughed. Mackey rolled his eyes.
“How about the name?”
The girl turned to her monitor, tapped keys. She cast a glance and a smile back at Fenster over her shoulder.
“What’s your name?” asked Fenster.
“That is absolutely beautiful.”
“Thank you. You’re so sweet.”
Mackey leaned back on the wall and whacked his head against it.
“Would you like me to call up to the room?”
“Oh no, that’s okay. A message is fine. If I could just borrow... Thanks.” Fenster scribbled on the card she handed him. Mackey didn’t want to know what the note said. “I’d also like to send up some flowers, you know, as an apology for being unable to make our meeting. Can you take care of that for me?”
“Absolutely. How much would you like to spend?”
Fenster pulled out his wallet. He removed a card. Bright orange, white stripe. Mackey shook his head. He was sure that if he opened his own wallet, his bank card would be missing.
“Let’s go crazy. Make it a hundred or so. Something real nice.”
The woman made an appreciative noise and picked up the phone. “Lucky lady,” she said.
“Just a business acquaintance.”
“Really? Wow.” She dialed, still smiling. “This is Sasha at the front desk. I’ve got a gentleman who would like to send some flowers up to nine-oh-one.”
Mackey straightened and made for the bank of elevators. He hit the “up” button, waited patiently as if he had all the time in the world. She wouldn’t be out if she didn’t need to be. And she didn’t need to be. They could send anything upstairs. She could keep an eye on the news. Make phone calls. Hide.
In his ear, Fenster refused to shut up.
“What are you doing later?”
“I don’t have any plans. My shift ends in an hour and a half.”
The door dinged open. Mackey waited for a an elderly couple to step out before he entered and pressed his thumb to the pad with the big, black nine. It lit up orange and the door closed. He watched Fenster until he disappeared behind a sheet of polished metal.
“How do you feel about Chinese food?”
”Fenster,” said Mackey.
“I love it.”
“There’s a place on Green Six--”
“Yeah. Is it any good?”
“Fenster, would you like to wrap that up?”
The elevator slowed and came to a stop on the third floor. The doors opened to the smell of food and the loud conversation of three men in business suits. They ambled in, one man absently pressing his finger to the seven pad. Mackey sighed and waited, listened to Fenster and Sasha the Desk Lady chatter in his ear. As the suits departed on seven, Fenster said goodbye to the girl.
“You made a date?”
“With a human female, yes.”
“Don’t start with me,” said Mackey. “Take the elevator up to eight and the stairs to nine. Let me know when you reach the landing. Sending it back down now.”
The door opened on a rounded room with a domed ceiling painted to look like blue sky and puffy white clouds. Mackey pressed the button for the lobby and slipped out before the doors began to close.
He crossed the room and stood behind the lip of wall to peer down the hallway. Nine-oh-one was the first room on his right.
Marlene probably had help if she was keeping Virgil against his will, though a moment’s thought on Virgil Weller himself and Mackey concluded that help might not be necessary.
Mackey pulled Lusci out of his jacket pocket and flipped open her case. Her face appeared on the small screen and she smiled at him.
Her voice came through the receiver in his ear. “Are we there yet?”
“When I give the word, I need you to call that list of agencies I gave you earlier.”
He closed the case and slid it back into his jacket. He wondered why he’d bothered to open it at all. To see her face? Fenster was right. His mother was right. He needed a woman. Bad.
“Can you still hear me, Lusci?”
“Loud, clear and sexy.”
Mackey blinked, decided not to ask. He slipped a small, black box out of another pocket and looked at the small screen. He pressed a button marked on/off and the box began to hum softly. The screen lit up. Charging.
“I’m there. Now what?” One flight of stairs and Fenster sounded breathless. Mackey shook his head.
“I love you, Mack. In a very manly and non-romantic fashion.”
“I want you to set off the fire alarm.”
Fenster let out a gasp that ended with a dramatic squeal. “But Garve, that would be breaking the law.”
“Stuff it, Fenster.”
Silence, which was more than he’d expected.
“I want the door open. Getting them out of the room would be even better.”
“You want her to come out? Just write a note that says the Bitch Universe pageant starts downstairs in five and slip it under the door.”
“Let me know when you’re ready to--.” A loud, high-pitched squeal filled the hall and Mackey covered an ear with his free hand. “Thanks.” Then to Lusci: “Call them now.”
Beside the door leading to the stairwell a white strobe went off and a bank of tiny lights set into the wall lit up, forming a map and a moving arrow indicating the hotel’s emergency exit route. Nine-oh-four opened and a man peeked his head out.
Mackey stepped around the wall and tried to look official. “Everything’s fine, sir. It’s a false alarm. We’ll have it fixed in a few minutes.”
He didn’t hear what the man muttered as he went back in, but he was sure it wasn’t complimentary.
The door of nine-oh-one swung inward and Mackey dodged back behind the wall. A big man stepped out, looked both ways and sniffed the air like a cautious animal in an expensive suit. He shrugged.
“Call downstairs,” he said.
“Fenster, now would be a real good time for you to get in here.”
Mackey stepped around the wall. He extended the small, black box in front of him and fired.
Wires spiraled outward as two metal prongs shot from the front of the box and embedded themselves in the man’s chest. He jerked sharply and fell. Mackey dropped the box and drew his gun as he rushed forward. A hand wrapped around the edge of the door and tried to push it closed, but the feet of the man he’d downed were in the way.
Mackey threw his shoulder against the door and shoved it open. Someone cursed on the other side and the hand disappeared. The man attached to it stepped into the open and Mackey thought about cursing, too.
Instead, he raised the gun. The guy lifted his hands as Mackey started to back away and glance around the room. There was motion in the corner of his eye. A whoosh of air as something flew toward his head.
He ducked the statuette and it smashed into the wall behind him. The big man surged forward. Off-balance, Mackey couldn’t get the gun back in line quickly enough to stop him. The man hit him and they both hit the wall. The shards of Marlene’s projectile crunched under their feet as they struggled.
“Virgil, don’t you dare!” Marlene’s voice, pitched high and trembling. She emerged from the hallway, running, and made a break for the door. Virgil came limping after her.
Mackey reversed his grip on the gun and swung it hard. It hit the bridge of his attacker’s nose and sent the man staggering. He set a foot on the man’s hip and shoved him down.
“Stay on the floor!” he said.
He turned to make a grab for Marlene. She side-stepped him and kept going. Fenster appeared in the doorway as she started through it. Without a word he pulled back his left arm and punched her in the face. She fell backward and landed hard on her ass.
“Hah!” said Fenster. He grinned, waved his cast at her. The fire alarm stopped and his voice exploded in the sudden quiet. “Hah!”
Virgil came to a skidding halt. “You,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Fenster. “Keep your ass right there or I’ll knock the crap out of you, too.”
Mackey shook his head and tried hard not to laugh. He pulled a plastic strip from a small case on his belt and bound the hands of the man at his feet. He drew out another one and tossed it to Fenster.
The man on the floor in the hall groaned and tried to sit up. Fenster dragged him inside and closed the door, then turned him over and put a foot on his back.
Marlene put her hand to her face and glared. “You. Hit. Me.”
“What the hell are you people doing here?” asked Virgil.
“We have some questions for you, Mr. Weller,” said Mackey. “Regarding the information you found in your father’s storage space, and what you’ve done with it.”
“Blackmail,” said Marlene. She stood up, wavering briefly before she found her balance. There was a red splotch under her right eye that would probably be a bruise later. “You aren’t a policeman, Mr. Mackey. You have no authority here. Furthermore, this is the second time you’ve broken into my place of residence. You might have friends on the satellite, but this station has independent authority and--”
“Shut up, Marlene,” Virgil muttered.
“Freelance law enforcement, Ms. Castor,” said Mackey. “I have a warrant to apprehend individuals wanted for questioning in the kidnapping of Virgil Jackson Weller and the hit-and-run injury of Lawrence Fenster. I’m authorized to use force. Would you like me to use force, Ms. Castor?”
She blinked at him. “I--”
“Why don’t you do us all a kindness, ma’am, and stop talking?” Mackey felt something winding up inside him. He’d never hated another human being before. He probably didn’t even hate Marlene Castor. But she made him angry. Worse than that. She pissed him off.
Fenster laughed out loud.
Mackey looked at her. Sharp nose, turned upward. Blue eyes glinting, trying to stare him down with a look of unwavering confidence that said they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do her any lasting harm.
“You know what’s wrong with you?” asked Mackey. “You’re self-absorbed, arrogant and just smart enough to be dangerous to the people who have the misfortune of getting sucked into your field of gravity. You don’t work hard enough for what you’ve got, and people fall into three categories for you. Useful, not useful, and beneath notice. All things considered, I think you don’t get punched in the face nearly enough. So maybe it would be to your benefit to stop flapping your lips and sit down.”
Fenster blinked at him, then burst out laughing. “Holy shit, Garve.”
Marlene stayed out of Virgil’s reach as she backed away and dropped into an armchair. Frowning, she glanced at each of them. She settled her gaze on Mackey as though she was trying to bore a hole through his skull with her eyes.
“Mr. Weller, you gained illegal access to your father’s space at Die Aufbewahrung storage facility.” Virgil looked guilty and opened his mouth to respond. Mackey waved him off. “I want to know what you found there.”
“Records,” said Virgil. “Old data files from way back. Some of them contained mining specs. A bunch had lists of equipment. Sales, receipts, shipping dates and ports of origin. The one that mattered, though--”
“Virgil, I will give you one hundred thousand dollars to shut your damn mouth right now,” Marlene snapped.
Virgil ignored her and went on. “One had a list of ships purchased at different auctions, estate sales and liquidations. They were distributed to several different companies, all of which were owned on some level by the Castor Corporation. Each one was insured for an outrageous amount, especially for a bunch of leaky rust buckets. In most cases, two months to a year after they were insured, each of the ships was claimed as a loss.”
“So your father may have had evidence that the Castor Corporation was committing insurance fraud?” asked Mackey.
Weller nodded. “He was just too much of a gentleman to use it. As has been pointed out to me several times, I’m not. I sent a copy of the file to the records department of Astral Insurance. They’d paid out the most for the claimed ships. They also held the policy on the last ship to be lost. The Hunter-Gratzner.”
Mackey stared at Virgil. Fenster voiced what he was thinking before he had the chance.
“You really are the dumbest, unluckiest bastard ever born.”
“I was broke and I was stupid,” said Virgil. “I’ll give it back.”
“You told Castor what you had.” Mackey’s stomach tightened and started to ache. These people were going to give him an ulcer.
“Yes. But Red here called some friends at Astral and probably had the stuff lost or ignored. They weren’t the only ones I sent it to, though. Maybe--”
“They already sent a team out,” said Marlene. She scowled at nothing in particular. “I wasn’t in time.”
“Sent it where?” asked Mackey.
“Hell if I know.”
“I think your father knows,” Mackey said. “And I think he sent someone to keep an eye out for them. Someone who is capable of defending the area with violence if necessary.”
“So the insurance thing is probably screwed.”
Mackey shook his head. “That may not be all. Mr. Weller, do you know where your daughter is?”
“Herry, you are not dying.”
Jack pursed her lips and huffed at him. “You’re fine.” She pressed a rag to his shoulder and held his arm to steady him as they made their way down the hall. She could be lying. The rag squished under her hand, already bled through.
They reached the door to the captain’s cabin, but Herry kept going straight.
“Gotta check on my boat,” he said.
“I lied, Herry. Sit down or you’re gonna drop dead.”
He stopped walking and Jack sighed, relieved. But he didn’t follow as she tugged him toward the door. Instead, he stared down the hall.
Jack looked. Reggie leaned in the cockpit door, her face slack and her eyes shining. Her voice was so quiet it barely carried.
“They fell,” she said.
“Shit,” said Herry. He put a hand on the wall and leaned on it as he half-ran, half-stumbled toward the front of the ship.
“What do you mean they fell?” asked Jack. She knew damn well what it meant. She just wanted it to mean something else.
Reggie moved out of Herry’s way to let him pass. She didn’t even look at him, bloody mess that he was. That scared Jack almost as much as the look on her face.
“They never pulled out of the dive,” said Reggie. She wrapped her arms around herself and shuffled toward Jack. “I talked to Martin. Just for a second. Then he was gone.”
“Gone?” asked Jack. Ice in the pit of her stomach. “What did he say?”
“He asked if I was okay.” Reggie let out a small, nervous laugh that had little to do with humor. “He said he’d call me back later.”
Jack leaned against the wall. Her knees hurt and she realized that she’d locked them, clenched them tight. Had to hold herself up somehow. “They’re not dead,” she said. “Because we’d know, wouldn’t we?”
“I don’t know, Jack.” Reggie wiped her eyes with one sleeve. She looked at the damp spot left behind, touched it, and burst into shuddering sobs. Jack put her arms around the other woman and stood silently, listening to her cry. She thought of consoling words, but she didn’t want to use them. That would be too much like... consoling.
Footsteps on the deck behind her. Jack thought of reaching for the pistol tucked in the back of her pants. She’d picked it up off the floor after Ty had stuffed Cappy and his goon in the cooler. She wondered if it was the same gun Cappy had fired at Riddick and hit her instead. She thought about asking. Tried to think about anything but burnt bodies in twisted wreckage.
Ty came up the steps from the kitchen to the front hall. Nathan followed, eyes wide and blinking.
“Ship hit the ground,” said Herry. He held onto the edge of the doorframe as he stepped out of the cockpit. His shirt was soaked down to the waist on one side. His face was pale under a deep flush. “We can follow the transponder to the wre--”
He looked from Jack to Reggie and winced. “Jesus, I’m sorry.”
“Is there a chance they landed safely?” asked Ty.
“Yeah,” said Herry. “If they got her nose up enough to... Yeah, sure.”
Jack shook her head. “You’re a horrible liar, Herry.”
“We can go down and have a look,” he said. “It’s not like somebody doesn’t know we’re here, already.”
Herry wavered and lost his hold on the wall. He slipped, leaving bloody streaks. Ty rushed forward and caught him under the arms before he fell.
“Come on, Herry.” Ty hefted Herry up on his shoulder and carried him to his room.
Reggie lifted her head and nodded before Jack said a word. She stood back and pulled her shirt straight, then wrapped her sweater tighter around her and gave Jack a sad little smile that made her heart hurt.
“Thank you,” said Reggie. Then she stepped past Jack and went after Ty.
That left Jack and Nathan standing in the hall. He was looking at her with the same slightly dazed expression he’d worn since she’d first seen him.
“How you doing, Nathan?” she asked.
He put his hands in his pockets and kicked at the deck. “Good, all things considered. I’m sorry about--”
“Look, I’m kind of in denial right now. And at this point I think the longer it lasts, the better. So if you could just play along for a while, that’d be real good.”
“I can do that.”
“We caught that other fellow,” said Nathan. “Or rather, he gave up. He’s in the cooler, too.”
“We should crank it up.”
Nathan nodded. “We did.” He lifted his hands and rubbed them, gestured at his chest, then at her. “You’ve got... all over...”
Jack looked down. Her hands and shirt were covered in Herry’s blood. She glanced around briefly, then sighed and wiped her hands on her pants. The red was still there, under her fingernails, mapping out the tiny wrinkles in her skin.
“I should wash my hands,” she said. But she didn’t move.
Silence, not really as awkward as it could have been. Jack closed her eyes and listened to Reggie’s voice as she talked to Herry. It was the same sure and gentle tone that Riddick had always used with Marty when he was sick.
Take it easy.
It had surprised her. Still surprised her. Jack thought she understood people. Her parents, their friends, people on the street. Unremarkable and near-invisible, she’d wandered among them and seen what they did when they thought nobody was looking.
When nobody was looking, Riddick was nice to people. No, not people. His people. Everyone else could go fuck themselves. It was an exclusive group. A small one. It might be even smaller, now.
You’ll be fine.
She opened her eyes, tried to blink the fuzziness out of them. Jack swiped a hand across her face and it came away wet. Nathan was a blur on the other side of the hall.
“Fine,” she said quickly. “Everything’s just peachy.”
The woman’s voice came from the intercom again, sharply accented and gravelly and fierce. Jack had no idea what she was saying. She looked at Nathan. He shrugged.
Jack poked her head into Herry’s room. “Who in the hell is that?”
“That’s Priscilla,” said Ty. He stepped past and started down the hall. “Someone is hailing us.”
“Tell them I said to fuck off,” moaned Herry.
Jack followed Ty to the cockpit and stood behind his seat. “Could it be them?”
“It’s ship-to-ship,” said Ty. “The caller is reg’d Port Safi.”
“The Maiden.” Jack realized she was tapping her fingers on the back of his seat and stopped. “Should we answer?”
Ty shook his head. He powered up the steering but kept his hands off the controls. “Get the captain up here, please.”
“To do what? He’s trashed.”
He didn’t look up from the dash. “Please,” he said flatly.
She whirled and brushed past Nathan, pounded the deck back to Herry’s room. She stuck her head in, wrinkled her nose at the antisceptic smell. Herry sat on the bed, looking away as Reggie wiped at his shoulder. Her hands were steady. Seemed to take all her concentration to keep them that way.
“We need Herry.”
Reggie shook her head. “You can’t have him.”
“This is an emergency of the ‘we’re gonna fucking die’ variety, Reggie. He needs to fly.”
“Ladies, ladies, there’s plenty of me for everybody.” He tried to stand, but Reggie held him down with a hand on his shoulder.
Reggie took a small carton out of her bag. She opened the lid and drew out a tiny, clear tube with a yellow cap. She twisted the cap and popped it off.
“That’s a needle.”
“It’s a lot tinier than what just hit you,” said Reggie. She squeezed a glistening drop from it, then poked him in the arm.
Herry flinched, then frowned at her as he rubbed the spot. Reggie pulled the tube away and returned it to the carton.
“This will hit in about thirty seconds, Herry. It’ll keep you awake and alert and feeling no pain for about an hour. After that, it’s going to let you down pretty hard. Whatever you’ve got to do, do it in a hurry.” Reggie put a square patch of material on his shoulder and taped it down quickly. “Go.”
He stood, and Jack dashed in to catch hold of him as he wobbled. “Got you,” she said. Herry leaned on her, almost too much. “Dammit, Herry. Diet.”
Her load grew lighter as they moved. Thirteen steps from Herry’s door to the cockpit. By the time they reached it he was walking without any help from her.
Herry slid into his chair and began flipping switches. The shoulder didn’t seem to bother him until he reached for things directly over his head. Jack wanted some of what he was having.
“Are you up to this, Captain Blake?” asked Ty.
He nodded. “I’m good. What the hell’s going on?”
“The Death Maiden came out of the rockfield,” said Ty. “She’s still a good distance away, but she’s creeping up on us.”
“They get close enough, they’re going to pulse us again, cut the power.” Herry tapped the corner of the screen and the incoming message sign disappeared. “Fuck off.”
The floor vibrated under her feet and Jack dropped into the side-facing foldout seat behind Herry. Nathan was already strapped in straight across from her, fingers clamped on the sides of his seat.
“We could bolt, but this isn’t the best part of space to be flying by the seat of your pants,” said Herry. “If I can get some distance, though, I can get out of the belt and back to the corridor before they catch up.”
Jack shook her head, even though he couldn’t see her. “We can’t leave.’
Ty glanced back at her, gave her a sad smile. She shook her head again when he met her eyes.
“We are not leaving, Ty,” she said.
“Gotta go now,” Herry muttered.
“Can we stay in the area without getting hauled in again or becoming stuff on a rock?” asked Jack.
Herry grabbed hold of the yoke and took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said. “We’ll just go somewhere they can’t go. Everybody hang onto your balls.”
I don’t know, he just fell.
Pride cometh before a swift kick in the balls.
Staggered, stumbled, hit hard. Knocked the wind out of his lungs. Knocked out more than wind. Rocks ground under his hands and knees as he heaved his last meal into the dirt. He coughed until his throat was raw and each violent spasm felt like a nail hammered into his skull.
Not mad. Just kind of confused, really.
Lightning struck behind his eyes. His body locked up, muscles taut and humming like wires with too much power running through them. He struggled to suck breath in between clenched teeth.
Don’t hold him down. Just let it run its course.
Running had never taken this much out of him. Blood pounded in his ears, trying to break out. His lungs burned and his stomach hitched, kicking bile up into his useless throat.
It let go of him, left him shivering and sweating and breathing like he’d just learned how. It still hurt. Not the dull, padded throb that always lingered for a day or two. It had edges. Points. Great big fucking barbs. Somebody let out a hoarse, strangled cry. It took a few beats to realize it was him. He bit into his lip and tasted blood. Didn’t help. The pain rose over his head until he was drowning in it.
No more. Please.
His eyes snapped open. Sunlight burned its way through them and filled his head. He squeezed the lids shut again but the light stayed, blinding from the inside. He shifted, tried to turn and get his hands under and push himself up. But someone had staked his skull to the ground. He lifted a hand to his head, barely felt it rise before it touched his temple.
“Can you hear me?”
He tried his eyes again, blinked at Snow and tried to get the word out. Couldn’t do it. He nodded instead. The motion made the ground buck and waver beneath him and he clawed at it, trying to hold on.
Cold sting. Calm settled in, blurred his vision. He struggled to keep his eyes focused while the rest of him melted into the ground. He reached for something to keep himself from going under.
* * *
Blood would have made it easier. When there was blood, you could bandage something. Sew it up. Hold it closed. Riddick frowned. It gave him an odd feeling, thinking about fixing people. Worse was the knowledge that he couldn’t do it. He looked at Snow. The big man leaned against the side by the tailgate, staring at his hands.
Not a damn thing I can do.
Riddick glanced at the women, sitting together on Snow’s flattened out jacket. The younger one, stared at him through a tangle of dark hair. Pale eyes stood out against dark bruises, flicked aside when they met his. The other woman’s gaze was fixed somewhere in the distance. She reached up and wiped at her face and Riddick looked away.
Marty was next to him, stretched out beside the front wall of the truck bed. Asleep. Unconscious. Riddick couldn’t tell. Snow had juiced him up pretty good.
The truck jounced and Marty’s eyes drifted half-open to stare past him, fixed and cloudy. Riddick studied his face, wondering if he’d recognize death when it wasn’t bloody or broken.
“Know what your problem is, Dickey?” Marty’s voice was rough and unsteady, like he was still waking up. The life seeped back into his eyes as they moved to focus on Riddick.
Riddick let his breath out, shook his head. “What’s that?”
“You’re a pussy.”
He raised an eyebrow, took a quick look at the others. They didn’t seem to hear, or they weren’t paying attention. “I’m what?”
“You heard me,” Marty whispered. “Every time things start to get tough, you run off. Never could handle prison, so you kept busting out.”
“Nobody wants to be locked up, Mad.”
“You’re a fucking criminal, Dickey. You’re supposed to be locked up.”
Riddick shrugged, started to mutter before Marty cut him off.
“You had your chance to get out of it neat and clean, but you managed to blow that, too.”
“By being a pussy.”
“Correct,” said Marty. “Now you’re a free man and you’re looking to get out of something else. The threats get smaller, and you don’t get any better at standing up to them.”
Anger came and went in a harmless flash and Riddick stared at him silently. Marty was hurting, and he was right. Riddick didn’t want to argue with him while he was either.
“You wanted advice. There you go.” One corner of Marty’s mouth curved up in a half-assed, lopsided smile. “So what have you learned?”
“Don’t be a pussy.”
Marty lifted a hand and tapped the end of his nose with one finger.
“She loves you, brother. I know you don’t think it means what you think she thinks it means, but you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, so you’re better off listening to her.”
“I’m not an idiot.”
Marty smirked. “Yes, you are.”
“I don’t belong with... people.”
“I’ve got news for you, Dickey. You’ve been with people for a good long while now.”
“Not people. You. And Jack.”
Marty raised an eyebrow and Riddick sighed.
“You know what I mean.” Riddick made pointless gestures with his hands, finally let them fall into his lap. “I told you before. She accepts me. Whatever I do, she wraps her brain around it and takes it in and... is all right with it.”
“Christ, what a horror.”
Riddick glared at him. “I’m serious.”
“You’re so full of shit.”
“I’m full of shit?”
“Yes, Richard, shit. Full of it. You live in a penthouse, you wear custom suits, you eat at obscenely expensive restaurants. And you enjoy it, you asshole. Don’t lie, because I’ve seen it.” Marty paused, took a deep breath and rubbed at the side of his head. He blinked, blew out, went on. “It’s because she wants to share what she has with you. And here you are acting like she tore you away from your fuzzy jungle mother and forced you to walk upright.”
“Fuck you harder, Dickey. You brought it up.”
“I thought we were done.”
Marty shifted his weight and pushed himself up with his hands until he was half-sitting, propped against the side of the truck. Riddick’s hand jerked toward him, but he didn’t help. Wasn’t sure it would be welcome. Marty settled himself, took a moment to catch his breath.
“You thought I’d agree with you is what you thought.”
“Fuck yes, I did,” Riddick hissed.
“I told you to ask her out in the first place.”
“You were trying to make a point, not trying to make us a couple.”
“Yeah, well, that backfired, didn’t it?”
Riddick shook his head. “Point just took longer to make than you thought it would.”
“The point I was trying to make was that you were like a great big, dumbassed teenager and that you’d fuck it up if you gave this thing a try.”
Riddick bit down on his reply, ground it between his teeth.
“But you didn’t. And not because I was wrong about the first part, so wipe that smug look off your goddamn face. She might be half your age, but she’s the one that made you grow up, Dickey. So give her a little credit, huh?”
Marty sighed, and closed his eyes for so long that Riddick gave his foot a nudge to make sure he was still awake. Awake. Hell of a euphemism. His eyes opened and he shrugged, picked up as if he’d never stopped talking.
“You’re going to do what you want. Just make sure you do it for the right reason.”
Do what you want. He could do what he wanted because Marty had made him a free man. A live one, too. Riddick had heard something once about how saving someone’s life made you responsible for them thereafter. Doing a good thing obligated you to keep doing it. Seemed wrong. Who the hell would get themselves into that on purpose?
Why did you save me?
He closed his eyes, let his head fall back against the side hard enough to hurt.
Because I wanted to.
“You were just going to let me tell her. What the hell happened?”
“It’s the drugs,” Marty said flatly. “Brain damage, looming mortality. Beats the shit out of me, brother.”
“I’m not saying you’re right.”
“Might not be.”
“I’ll talk to her.”
“And I’ll stop being a pussy.”
Riddick opened his eyes, lowered his head. Marty wasn’t looking at him. His face was turned toward the front of the truck instead. Away from the light. He still squinted. No, winced.
“Hurt much?” asked Riddick.
“More than I’d like it to.” Marty scooted up some more, held onto the side and looked like he was going to be sick again. He blew out a breath and flashed Riddick a small, self-conscious smile. “I suppose that can’t be helped.”
Riddick felt eyes on him. Snow was watching, probably had been for a while. The silence must’ve gone on too long, because Marty shot a glance from one of them to the other and nodded.
“I heard,” he said. He spoke louder, steadier. “You don’t have to break the news or anything.”
“I should have waited to talk about it,” said Snow. “Until you were... up.”
“Got the feeling you didn’t think I would be.”
Heat bloomed on Riddick’s face. He didn’t know if the shadows in the truck would hide it. Didn’t much care. An ache was forming in the center of his chest and he shifted, rubbed at the muscles as if they had anything to do with it.
“Did you know this was going to happen?” asked Riddick.
“Was kind of hoping it wouldn’t.”
“It could be minor,” said Snow. “Not great, but it could be worse. You sit still, take it easy, you should be okay.”
“Okay,” Marty said softly. It didn’t sound like agreement. He frowned at the opposite wall, seemed on the verge of speaking for a few moments before he finally did. “I haven’t been okay for a real long time.”
“Maybe not,” Snow shrugged. “But you’re still kicking.”
“Enought to tear me a new asshole,” said Riddick. He smiled. “Didn’t you say something about brain damage? Isn’t that supposed to slow you down or something?”
Marty laughed softly, returned the smile. He raised a hand to wipe at his nose and his fingers came away bloody. “Shit. Sprung a leak.”
The smile vanished and the hand dropped into his lap. He stared after it, blank faced, drifting away.
“Marty?” Riddick tapped his leg. When he didn’t get a response he gave it a hard shove. “Mad!”
Flinch. Sharp intake of breath. Marty blinked at his surroundings, jaw shuddering so fiercely his teeth clacked. Riddick leaned forward and crawled over to him, put a hand on Marty’s face and brought it around. His eyes were wide and gleaming.
Snow shouldered Riddick aside. “You’re okay, Cap. Take it easy.”
Slouched against the wall, Marty nodded wordlessly. His eyes flicked from one of them to the other, regained their focus. He nodded again, wiped at his nose with the back of his hand.
It was weapons-grade bullshit, but neither of them called him on it.
Riddick felt a rumble in his guts. A low, intense vibration that resolved itself into the roar of an engine. He grabbed a rifle and scurried to the tailgate to crane his neck around the edge of the truck. The women scrambled toward the front of the bed as the window slid open with a loud clack and Wilkins hollered.
A bullet whizzed past Riddick’s ear and struck the ground. He twisted around to look up and saw a shadow descending out of the blue sun. He pulled his head inside as they cut loose from above. Gunfire pattered on the roof like violent rain and he threw himself flat against the wall.
Snow launched across the truck and forced the women against the front wall, blocked them with his body. The roof dented, then burst, letting in a torrent of metal. The truck veered sharply to the left and Riddick held on to keep from being thrown. Bullets pinged and clattered against the side and then fell away. The vehicle spun and rocked, jerking away from the gunfire.
“Bright ideas welcome!” shouted Kelly.
“Stay away from the hatch side, goddamit!” Marty winced at the volume of his own voice. All the movement and noise had powered through whatever Snow had given him. His head was pounding, and raising his voice over the din made it worse. He demonstrated how little he gave a shit by doing it again. “Whoever ain’t driving, come back here and shoot!”
Riddick and Snow returned fire, their shots bouncing away without leaving so much as a smear on the ship’s skin.
“You’re not getting through the hull,” said Marty. “Wait til you see an opening.”
Marty hooked the strap of his rifle with two fingers and pulled it to him. He spotted his discarded armor on the floor, nudged it toward the women with his boot. “Keep that in front of you. After they come through, you go into the cab and get on the floor.”
They nodded, gathered up the armor and waited.
Mercy handed his weapon over and wiggled through after it. He made for the rear, crawling quickly over supplies and people. Wilkins came through, tossed against the sides of the opening as the truck fishtailed. He fell hard and scrambled after Mercy. The women pulled themselves quickly through the opening and shut the window behind them.
Marty hauled himself to his knees, swallowed down a case of the dry heaves. The truck swerved again and nearly threw him. Snow clamped a hand on his arm.
“Sit your ass down, Mad.”
“I’m up. Might as well shoot somebody.”
Snow shook his head. “I knew I should have dosed you harder.”
Marty patted him on the shoulder, then crawled to the tailgate and squeezed in between Riddick and Mercy.
Indemnity dropped into view behind them, raced forward, windshield glaring in the sun. The side door was open, the ramp part of the way down. A dangerous way to fly for something that wasn’t meant to be used as a combat craft. It jerked and wobbled, dipped dangerously low to the ground.
“We might need that thing to get back upstairs.” Marty coughed, tasted blood. Felt it running down the back of his throat. “So try not to damage the seal.”
Riddick shook his head without turning. “Don’t ask for much, do ya, Cap?”
The ship pulled up to within several meters, then swerved out to one side and jerked around to face them. They fired into the half-open door as the ship whizzed past the rear of the truck. Bullets peppered the tailgate, forcing them to duck behind the thick metal. When they rose and looked out, the ship was zooming over the plain, starting on an arc that would bring it back around.
Without a word, they scrambled to reload, preparing for another pass.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” asked Riddick.
Wilkins snorted. “That’s because nothing’s hit you yet.”
“Incoming,” said Mercy.
The dusty white belly passed over them. This time Marty could see heads, arms, shoulders over the half-open ramp as they were fired on. Kelly accelerated and turned hard to the left, moving them away from the open door. Indemnity wheeled to follow.
Marty whistled. “I think he’s getting the hang of this.”
Mercy fired once and a rifle dropped into the dirt behind them.
Gunfire made high-pitched, hollow sounds against the tires, but they didn’t blow. They were built not to. The thin metal covering the bed of the truck wasn’t nearly so tough. Sunlight burst through new holes in the side and sent them all diving. Bullets ricocheted, most came to a stop harmlessly.
When they veered sharply again, Wilkins cursed and sat up, holding his arm. ”Ow, goddamit!”
“It’s just a nick, Wilco,” said Mercy.
“Yeah, well how many nicks before it counts, asshole? Fuck! What the hell is up their ass?”
Marty chambered a round and shrugged. “Maybe they really really liked Bob.”
Wilkins blinked at him. “Who the fuck is Bob?”
Marty laughed out loud. “How are we for ammo?”
“Good, Cap,” said Mercy. “It’ll be a while before we’re reduced to throwing things at them.”
Marty stopped, blinked out at the bright sunshine, then dropped his eyes to his pack, tucked up against the wall. He dove for it. “Mercer, you’re a genius. Tell me when they come up on us again.”
He turned the pack over and flipped open the small front pocket. Nestled inside were four concussion grenades. He pulled one out and closed the flap. It was heavier than it looked. He tossed it up and caught it. Drew back his arm, testing.
He could do this. He looked out over the dirt plain, saw the white flash of the ship out behind them, spinning to make another run. He took his place beside the others, but instead of kneeling behind the tailgate he squatted and held onto it with one hand. The other hand held the grenade, growing steadily warmer against his palm. His knees cracked and protested and he wondered if they’d get him up quickly enough. Had to. Gravity would take care of getting him back down.
Riddick stared. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Saving the day if we’re lucky.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, Cap, your luck has been kind of shit, lately.”
Marty grinned. “No, brother. This could be my lucky day.”
“Aw, shit.” Riddick shook his head, looked at him like he was a little kid who’d found his daddy’s loaded gun. He put a hand out. “Let me do it.”
“I got this.”
The man set his mouth in a determined line and shook his head. Marty smiled at him, slapped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
“It’s okay, Dickey.”
“It is not fucking okay.”
“Here they come!”
Marty turned away, took a deep breath, whispered a short prayer. He fixed his eyes on the Indemnity, watched as the hatch spun to face them.
You’re not looking to go out in a blaze of glory, are you?
Yes I am.
He cocked his arm back and pushed with his legs, holding on tight to the tailgate and swinging himself up to stand. He armed the grenade as he rose, then sidearmed it at the narrow opening.
A punch in the gut knocked him back down. He landed hard on the truckbed, curled around his searing stomach as the explosion sounded from someplace far off.
Instant Karma, fucker.
Hands on him, trying to press against his back and turn him over at the same time. There was the familiar sting of things misplaced and torn. He felt unplugged, looked down. Leaking all over the place.
He smiled. “That’s some bedside manner, Snow.”
“Fuck you, Bender. You did that on purpose.”
“They go down?”
“I should tell you no and let your ass die feeling stupid.”
Marty laughed. He gagged when he tried to get his breath back, coughed up a mouthful of blood. It pooled in the back of his throat and made a soft gargling sound as he tried to take in air.
“Take it easy, Mad.”
Snow raised a hand to wipe sweat from his face and left a bright red smear on his cheek. Marty stared at it, fascinated. Someone touched him and he turned away to find Riddick frowning down at him, silent. Marty slid his arm away from the sticky warmth at his side. His hand came up against the other man’s knee and Riddick reached down and took it into his own.
“What the fuck am I supposed to tell your wife, Bender?” growled Snow.
The truck rocked hard. His head bounced hard on the bed and he saw stars. He panicked for a second when it looked like the glass was gone and there was nothing between him and cold space. Curtis laughed at him, called him a shitburger.
I’ve got a neck, it’s just not all skinny like yours.
They lay side by side on the flat ledge over the door to the Nightengale’s starboard solarium. Their secret place. He spotted his reflection and picked out the stars around the edges, turning himself into a constellation.
He was trying to think of what to call it when the door hissed open. Soft squeak of rubber-soled shoes on the deck.
Martin Ira Bender, I know you’re in here.
He dropped off the overhang, landed square on his feet. His friend leaned over the edge and watched him as he waved and walked backward toward the door.
Don’t do anything I would do.
* * *
“The seal’s a little fucked, but it’s fixable.”
Riddick blinked at Kelly. He understood the words, it just took him an extra moment to sort them into something that made sense. “Radio work?”
“Yeah.” He tilted his head back inside. “Boss called. Says they had trouble but all’s good, now.”
“Trouble?” asked Riddick.
Kelly shrugged. “They’re coming down here and fetch us.” Kelly paused and Riddick waited for the rest. He figured he already knew what it was. “Mad’s missus wants to know if anybody’s hurt.”
“What do I tell her?”
Riddick rubbed a hand over his head and blew out a loud breath. “Have you said anything yet?”
“She’s gonna be-”
“I’ll deal with it,” Riddick snapped.
Kelly lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender. They were clean. Not like everyone else’s. Riddick had rubbed his own in the dirt to get the blood off. It was still under his nails, crusted along his cuticles. The knees of his pants were wet with it. Kept sticking to the skin. He pulled and shook the cloth loose again and headed toward the prisoners.
The dead men they’d pulled out of Indemnity were in a pile, covered with the parachute silks from the truck. The live ones were in a row, face-down in the dirt with their hands bound behind them. Most were under the silk.
He stopped with the tip of his boot in front of someone’s face. It took all the force of will he could muster to keep from kicking it in. The Nebs talked quietly behind him. Church voices. Funeral voices. He tuned them out and stared down at the man by his feet. Thick limbs, scrubby beard, long hair in a ponytail. The kind of dirty you had to scrub for months to get off. One arm was covered with tattoos. He didn’t know the meaning, but he recognized the style.
“Are all you pieces of shit ex-cons?”
The man didn’t respond. Riddick shoved him with one toe.
“You hear me, boy?” The low voices behind him stopped. Riddick leaned down and grabbed the ponytail, pulled hard until they were face to face.
“Most.” He blinked, his eyes widened. “You’re a fucking cop.”
Riddick laughed out loud. “Cop or not, you’re fucked, son. What are you doing here?”
The man blinked at him. Riddick’s fist clenched on the handful of hair and he resisted the urge to pound the face it was attached to into the ground until something broke.
“How’d you get the job? Temp agency? You answer an ad?”
“A guy came to the lock-up. He offered to get me cut loose if I did a couple years down here.”
Riddick let go, straightened, stepped back. The man lowered his head, set his cheek back on the ground. Riddick would have jumped at a chance like that. Had, once. He’d done what it took to save his own ass, just like these people had. He tried to feel sorry for them. Didn’t.
“Why were you so hot on our asses?” Riddick considered and dismissed the notion that they were trying to avenge their fallen buddy. He waited for an answer.
“The stuff you took. Without it, we don’t get paid, and we don’t get our time checked off.”
“Could have asked for it.”
Nothing. He wasn’t expecting much.
“Who brought you here?”
“Fuck me?” Riddick glanced at the pair of women seated in the shadow of the truck. He tried to keep his eyes off the canvas-wrapped bundle in the back. He drew his knife, turned it so the light it reflected made a malformed star on the man’s face. “I’m going to hand this over to the ladies and let them ask.”
Thrum in the air. The Vagabond Queen slipped out of the clouds almost directly overhead. He put the knife away and watched her descend, his stomach knitting steadily tighter until it hurt. He frowned at the unsteady approach, sighed his relief when she settled to the ground. It didn’t last.
The side ramp lowered and Jack sprinted down. Ty limped after her, calling for her to slow down. She didn’t listen.
She didn’t say anything, just slammed into him hard and threw her arms around him. Her fingers dug into his back as she pressed her face to his chest. He thought of the blood on his clothes, but didn’t pull away.
“Jesus, I thought you guys were totally screwed,” she said. She pulled back, smiling. It faded quickly. He knew what his face must look like, wished he could make it do something else. “What’s wrong?”
Reggie dashed up to them, her yellow bag in hand. Riddick took Jack’s hand and strode out to meet her before she got too close to the truck.
Her eyes skimmed the men. He watched her face change as she realized her husband wasn’t one of them. She looked at him, questioning, and there was a moment of guilty relief when she found the answer without him saying a word.
A small, strained sound came from her as she dropped the bag and covered her mouth with her hands. She stared at him and shook her head.
“What..?” Jack stepped toward Reggie, tried to put a hand on her. The other woman backed away, tears pooling against her cheeks, rolling over her fingers. “Reg?”
Reggie dropped her hands, drew a long, shuddering breath and whispered, “Where is he?”
“In the truck.”
She turned, nearly stumbled before Jack caught her arm. Jack blinked at Riddick, frowned. Her eyes were starting to shine.
“Look, Reg, it’s...” A mess. He’d almost said it. Reggie pulled gently away from Jack and made her unsteady way to the truck. Jack turned to follow and Riddick snagged her arm. “Let her be.”
Jack glanced at Reggie, then turned wide eyes on him. “Dead?”
She lifted her chin, pressed her lips together. They still quivered. So did her voice. “For real this time?”
Jack set her jaw and jerked her head toward the men on the ground. “Did they do it?”
“Short answer? Yeah.”
Her eyes narrowed, forcing tears out. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and strode quickly toward the prisoners, heavy-soled boots thumping hard on the dirt. “Why are they still breathing, then?”
“Jack...” He went after her, tried to think of a good reason to stop her before she hurt someone.
“Huh? You pieces of shit?” she shouted. “What gives you the right to keep fucking breathing?”
She emphasized each of the last three words with a savage kick. Ribs, shoulder, face. She drew back her foot again and Riddick stepped up.
“Jack, stop.” He wrapped his arms around her from behind and pulled her away. She struggled, stretched her leg out to catch a temple before she was out of range.
“Lay off, Riddick!”
He spun around and set her feet on the ground without letting go. She stepped hard on his foot, squirmed hard trying to get loose. He caught her wrists and turned her to face him.
“It won’t help, Jack.”
“How will it not help?” she asked. “They fucking deserve it.”
“I’ll give you the long answer later.”
She stared hard at him. Tears pooled and overflowed. She wiped them away and nodded. “It better be good,” she whispered.
“Incoming.” Mercy pointed and they all looked. Riddick didn’t see it for another few seconds. He wondered how the fuck Mercer had seen it in the first place.
“Fuck me,” said Kelly. “We running a fucking airfield down here, now?”
Riddick squinted into the sky. He knew the ship, wondered what it meant that she was coming their way. “It’s the Tolliver. What the fuck?”
“The Maiden’s up there,” said Jack. “Cappy hauled us in and boarded us. We’ve got him locked up with the two assholes he brought with him. He’s the one who made the Belle take a header. Thought you were all at the bottom of a crater.”
“Wrap all this shit up and get it on board,” Ty shouted. “Go! Go!”
Snow and Kelly tossed the three prisoners back into Indemnity and ducked inside. The engines began to cycle up. The truck roared to life and started toward the Vagabond Queen.
“Let’s go, Jack.”
“We’re just going to leave?”
“Safer inside,” he said.
“She isn’t armed.”
“The guys inside might be.”
“So what? So are we.”
He tugged at her and she followed, staring back at the distant ship as it descended.
“Come on, Jack. Gonna have company. Might as well get dressed up.”
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