Three days. He had left New Mecca three days ago. The last year was fading like a dream.
He had left on a commercial transport. One last effort at playing nice for the old man. There were tears in little Jack's eyes as she bravely wished him good luck with life. He could almost still feel her soft kiss on his cheek. She clearly thought she'd never see him again. Smart kid.
Very first stop was another planet in the system. Hadn't been hard at all to slip off. Found a ship he wanted. Took the ship he wanted. For old time's sake, he tasted the blood of former owner. It was strangely flat and tasteless. He disposed of the body quietly.
He slept that night in the dead man's bed, drenched in the dead man's scent. Woke from a dream that he was that man, being killed by something he couldn't see, couldn't fight. Woke up roaring. Looking for something else to kill. But there was no one there.
If she'd been here . . .
He shook off the dark thought. Sleep called him back to bed, be damned if he was going to be beaten by stink.
This time, the dream was more . . . insinuating. Jack was with him again, all grown up, all hard and cold and glittering. His soul, reflected in female form. They were fighting, fucking, rolling, falling – and then she was a little girl again, all hope and promise, and then she was falling off a cliff, and he just watched her fall. Heard the wet crunch of her bones at the bottom. He turned and walked, alone, away from the edge.
Then Carolyn was there. Beautiful, stupid Carolyn. Glaring at him. "Not for you. I wasn't supposed to die for you. She wasn't supposed to die for you. You asshole. Go back and do it right this time."
He turned from her and walked into the darkness. Right into Johns. "You thought you were so slick. You thought you were so . . . inhuman. And then some little lady spins your head around and you go all soft. That's why I'll catch you. That's why I will always catch you."
Then she was there again, and they were running, together, away from a wall of flame, and he saw her fall, sucked under the flames like a child sucked into a riptide. There was nothing he could do. Nothing he could do.
He was half way to the cockpit to turn the ship around, go back, take her back, before good sense reasserted itself. To take her was to kill her. And he didn't want to see her die.
It was a good ship. Solid. New. New equipment. New cryo set up. Decided to try it out. Might be able to get some distance. Might be able to escape the dreams for a while.
He set the destination almost at random. He'd wake up soon anyway. He always did. He always did.
Now, Riddick was fighting giant things with many tentacles, many legs, chittering mouths. Monsters that just kept coming, ravening jaws crammed with teeth. Just him and them, fighting. It was wonderful.
Then he fell. Kept falling. Kept falling.
Riddick woke up abruptly, still feeling the fall. What the fuck?
He was, improbably, in something that resembled a cave. Alone. The room was dimly lit, and he was lying in a hospital bed.
Last thing he remembered was stealing a ship, getting into cryo for a temporary escape from dreams. Dim memory of the dreams finding him. His clothes felt strange, desiccated and slightly greasy all at once. Like they had aged. Damn. Where am I? How long was I out?
He felt like he'd been asleep for years. Cryo never worked for long before . . .
Guess it did this time. Long enough to get caught. Damn.
Jack. Is Jack okay?
Not your problem, asshole
He took stock. No injuries. They hadn't disarmed him, that was weird. Still had his goggles. He slipped them on, peered around, almost able to see in a normal spectrum with these shades. Room seemed to have been carved out of rock.
Gotta get out. Find Jack . . . Shook his head. Why was he thinking of her? He'd left her safe on New Mecca almost a week ago . . .
Almost? Maybe more. Maybe a lot more.
Never mind. He could check up on her when he got out of here.
No. Gotta stay away from her.
No. Gotta make sure she's safe.
Deal with it later. Might as well try the door. . .
Before he got there, the door opened, and a man walked in. No fear in him. Young, professional, a little weary, utterly unarmed, slightly surprised. "You're awake."
Riddick just stared at him. This was not making sense.
The man smiled, with a belated hint of warmth and welcome. "Sorry I wasn't here, I just didn't expect you to wake up so fast."
Riddick stared at him blankly. "Do you know who I am?" he finally asked, softly.
"Cyrus Borson, they tell me."
Cyrus Borson. The owner of the ship. The last man he'd killed. They thought he was him. Amusing. "Where's my ship?"
"I don't know. I just got here. My name is Simon. You were dropped off here quite a while ago." Incongruously, the man flushed, as if embarrassed about something. He sat down on the chair. Still no fear in him. "Look, something went wrong with your ship, and you were in cryosleep for a long time. Some folks brought you in. This was the nearest medical facility.
"The good news is that you're absolutely fine." The doctor hesitated.
"The bad news?"
"You've lost eight years. And you're, well, here."
The doctor sighed, looked old. "Look, I'm not going to sugar coat this. You're in the 'Infernal World.' It's a glorified labor camp. You can contact your people, see if they can buy you a ticket out of here. We already sent notice to your last port of call, so it might be taken care of. It's not a charity camp; until you leave, you'll have to work. Get script you can exchange for 'life's necessities.' Food, supplies, whatever." He blushed at that last word. "You save up enough, you can cash out, leave. But frankly, most people don't."
Sent word. I need to leave before that word comes back. "You don't look . . . labor camp material."
The man blushed again. "Part of the medical residency. I drew the short straw. Still, miners get interesting injuries sometimes."
Medical student. Newby. "Ah."
There was a crash. The doctor blanched. "Excuse me." He ran out. After a pause, Riddick followed.
The doctor was confronting four very well armed, very drugged, men, carrying medical supplies. He was pleading. "We need these. We won't get another supply run for weeks."
"Not our problem, you ponce," the largest growled. Shoved the doctor hard. Not quite sure what he was doing, Riddick moved in between them.
"Not nice to push people."
"We're not nice people."
As if to prove the point, the leader pulled a knife, rushed Riddick. He side stepped him, knocked him to the ground lazily. Another man was rushing the doctor. Him, he killed, knife to the back of the neck. It was good to get the muscles working again.
"You fucker!" All three rushed him. And then all three were dead. Knife through the lungs, knife up the gut, severed jugular.
The doctor was gasping. "Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god." Riddick helped him up. The doctor clung to him for an instant, then pushed away. "You saved my life. Anything I can ever do--"
Riddick gave him a friendly smile, and tried the door. It opened easily. He peered around. Network of tunnels. There were people there. It was dark. Subdued.
He eased down the hall. The people he could sense smelled small, trivial. The rocky ceiling was low. A slight smell of chlorine and urine and sweat. No blood, no rot . . .
All right. Been here before, essentially. Figure out who had the keys, charm them or kill them, and figure out how to get out of here. Maybe take the doctor; he was going to get eaten alive here. Now where the fuck did that thought come from?
Another day. Things weren't so bad here. Food was good. No chains. Well, not literal chains; the company provided food, whores, whatever you wanted, at rates guaranteed to keep you underground forever. At least no one seemed to know or care who he was.
But he still needed to leave before word came back from New Mecca; word that might prove he was not Cyrus Borson, if someone was smart enough to send a picture or DNA. If they had, that might even link him to the old guy and Jack.
Jack. Why he was hesitating. Because he couldn't stop thinking of her. Couldn't stop thinking of all the ways she could have died, could have been hurt, could have changed while he slept.
Change. She must have changed; if nothing else, she couldn't have stayed fifteen forever.
What would be better? That she'd relaxed into the role of an upper middle class brat, safe and spoiled? Or maybe she'd done what she had once threatened, come after him? That was the nightmare. That she'd followed him into the dark. That she was lost, somewhere, in the dark and he could spend the rest of his life fighting those fucking giant spiders, looking for her.
One good thing about being scooped up and brought here; it was unlikely she had been dragged into the dark as bait. He was almost grateful to who ever it was who collected him, taken him here. They might have saved her. . .
Or maybe she was just a good person, on a good planet, with a good life. That's what he wanted for her, for some fucked up reason. But that was the life he could destroy if he got anywhere near her.
And once he left here, he would.
The people here were like ghosts. Unreal. Unsubstantial. Less pressing than the air. He made himself a nest in the dark, far away from them. Killed a few people for their bedding; seemed the easiest thing.
He made the bed soft. Remembered how much she liked soft.