It was genetic engineering at its finest: they had created a breed of soldiers who served unquestionably. And who were really, really fucking hard to kill.
Tried to test their methods on him. And it was glorious. Better than they had ever anticipated. Except that the taking orders blindly part hadn't really stuck. Guess they'd figured that out somewhere in the time it took for him to tear their operation apart from the ground up.
But that was done and over with and now…now Jack was sitting on the edge of her seat, death grip on the controls, trying not to slam them into Nibiru's docking terminal.
"Easy, kid. Easy."
She just gripped the controls harder and edged them forward. He very deliberately did not reach out and take the controls back.
After way too long they were finally connected, and she was smiling like she had just slipped the chains for the very first time.
Impulsively, he pulled her into his lap. Kissed her. She liked that. He leaned back and let her set the pace. She liked that a lot. Showed him exactly how much.
Kept his hands locked behind his head the whole time. Even when she asked him to touch her. That was an experience in and of itself.
Afterwards, she was resting against his chest, breathing hard. Her shirt had come off at some point, and he stroked his thumbs up and down her sweat slicked back.
The needle would go in somewhere around her third or fourth cervical vertebrae. Easier access to the cord and stem from there.
He fingered the back of her neck for a second, lost in thought. He couldn't remember if it'd hurt when they'd done it to him. Hoped not. The plan wasn't to hurt her.
But he would if necessary. Wondered if she'd look at him the same if she knew that. Probably not.
No time for second guessing. Time to go.
He scooped her up, smiling when she giggled. Took her to the bunk and watched her change. She blushed and it was gorgeous.
Wondered if she'd be like that, after. Smiling and beautiful and soft. Soft skin, at least. Rapid muscle development was almost guaranteed.
Hoped she's still look at him like that.
He could get used to it. She was so damn happy it was intoxicating. Just happy that he was letting her come along and not chaining her up.
Almost made him feel bad about what he was about to do to her.
Something like shock crossed Riddick's face when they stepped off of the docking ramp and into the terminal corridor. She could see it in his shoulders, the way they went cable wire tight, when they stopped in front of one of the windows overlooking the earth below.
Jack felt herself tense. Unsure if he was about to change his mind. Unsure about what she'd do if he did.
Threw the chain away already, she though, as if it meant anything. Wished she'd hid it in a better place.
And then Riddick laughed. A harsh, barking sound. His huge, warm hand was spanning her back, pulling her closer to him. She relaxed, reminded herself to breathe.
"Where're we going?"
"Shopping. Fuel, rations, shit like that. You see anything you need – anything you want, let me know."
She grinned, elbowed him lightly. "Anything? Even combat boots? I'm starting to hate these slippers."
"Anything," he replied quickly, voice rougher than normal.
She gave him a quick, surprised look. Delighted. Couldn't help melting against him at the warm, indulgent look he caught her with. Fell into step beside him easily.
"What if I want pretty stuff," she asked softly, grinning. "Jewelry and makeup and slinky dresses."
Riddick made a groaning noise that tickled. Smoothed his hand down her back, over the curve of her ass.
"You want a slinky dress," he asked, all interest and hunger. "Shit, Jack. I'll buy you a slinky dress. Buy you two. Can't promise they'll stay in one piece very long."
She giggled, pressing her face against his side. Suddenly so ridiculously happy it made her light headed. "Beast. You're terrible."
Riddick made a concurring grunt. Took her hand and led her through the maze of corridors.
Like they were just two lovers stopping for supplies on their way across the galaxy.
They had made their way through the station quickly. Bypassing the more crowded common levels and central elevators by sticking to the service lifts on the rim on the great structure.
She kept her word. Kept her hood up and didn't look too hard at strangers. Stayed within reach.
The trade market was massive, took up several of the central floors. After months on a quiet, dark ship it was sensory overload.
Jack rocked back on her heels, grateful for Riddick's steady hand on her back.
Felt him slip something small and metallic into her robe pocket. Stuck her hand in. Pulled out a UD credit chip.
Oh. She had thought he'd slipped her a blade.
Riddick smirked at her, understanding. Nodded at the stands in front of them.
The pickings were slim, but she managed to find underwear and pants and soap that smelled a lot better than what Riddick had on the ship. Even found a decent pair of boots that hadn't been worn too much and were more or less her size.
Riddick didn't carry the bags.
Exhausted, giddy from the overload, she waited a small distance away as he haggled over prices for food, fuel, and medical supplies. The seller tried to up the price when Riddick told him he wanted the goods taken up to the ship. Riddick gave him a long blank look. The man quailed and scurried away.
Jack watched, absently amused. She'd almost forgotten that he terrified other people, too.
Riddick stalked back over to her, swiping an apple out of one of the stands on his way. Jack caught the stand owner's eye. Fresh fruit was probably a rarity on a port like this, even if they did have a level for food production. He looked between her and Riddick and turned away.
She snorted. Took the apple he pressed into her palm. "Can't take you anywhere, Richard. You're scaring the locals."
His lips twitched. She bit into the apple, humming as tangy sweetness met her tongue. Riddick made a satisfied noise of his own.
"Stay here for a minute, okay? Someone I gotta talk to."
"Alright," she agreed, around a mouthful of apple. It was really, really good.
She could feel his eyes hard on her. Calculating. She smiled up at him sweetly, not having to fake it. "I said alright. Go on. I won't attract any attention. Pinky swear."
He stooped, face to face with her. "You weren't so fucking gorgeous, I'd almost believe that." She blushed furiously.
"Stay put." Riddick turned on his heel and melted into the crowd.
She waited until her heart thub-dubbed back into its normal rhythm before shuffling off to the edges of the market.
Munched on the apple, watching other people live their lives. It was a busy station for a supposed-to-be-dead planet. Looked like the people there were getting by, even if it was a struggle. The station itself was kind of beat up and dingy – but the people looked healthy enough. Kinda skinny like they didn't get much protein. Nothing worse than what she'd seen on other stations. There were levels for everything. Housing. Medical attention. Food production. Atmosphere and water processing. Waste disposal. Shop and repairs. There was even a level for laundry.
Reminded her of a beehive. Busy, busy. Normal people doing normal things and trying to make a normal life for themselves. Suddenly, she wanted to be one of those people so bad her stomach hurt. She tossed the apple into a bin, half finished. Went back to watching people.
Not a lot of kids around. The ones she saw were working just like the adults. Pushing carts back and forth to different levels, arranging merchandise, haggling over prices.
One of the girls looked like Ziza might when she got older. If she got older.
The thought rose up like a tidal wave, left her breathless in its wake.
Jesus. They could all be dead and I wouldn't even know it. I haven't even thought about it.
And it was true. Hurt worse than the possibility of them being dead, the fact that in over twelve weeks she'd hardly thought about them.
Jesus. I was fighting my own demons. Still am maybe. Even if now he's giving me sweets and calling me pretty and being really, really…nice.
That doesn't excuse it. Abu protected you. He loved you. Ziza damn near worshipped you. And you're too busy playing happy honeymooners and going on shopping sprees to remember that you left them behind to deal with a very powerful, very pissed off psycho-fuck. They might've died to get you away from him.
The shame was hot and immediate and all consuming.
You better not start fucking crying in the middle of this crowd.
She wiped her eyes viciously, and backed away to the edges of the market. Wished that Riddick would come back. Get her out of there, away from all these people.
She hurried into one of the elevators. Started pressing buttons blindly, leaning back against the wall when the lift lurched upwards. Pressing her palms against her eyes to beat back tears.
She felt the lift come to a halt. The doors slid open with a quiet hiss.
Right, she thought. Right. Where the hell am I?
Jack peeked her head around the door, stared down the hallway. Double door at the end with a sign 'Sterile Area: Do Not Enter". Huh. Medical floor. Tucked back in the lift to see the level number. Thirteen.
Stepped out of the elevator and slammed into a wall of black. Familiar hands wrapped hard around her arms.
"Jack?" She pulled back to look up at him. He looked startled. That faded quickly into suspicion. "What're you doing up here? Told you to stay put."
Her arms started to hurt. She took a long shuddering breath. "Just – just get me outta here, yeah?"
"What happened," he demanded. There was suspicion quickly turning into anger.
Jack shook her head, tears pushing up to the surface again. "Nothing. Nothing happened. Just – just a little overwhelmed." She could tell he didn't buy it, and was pathetically grateful that he didn't ask any more questions – just maneuvered them back into the elevator and let her compose herself.
After a while she could feel him looming behind her. Watching. Waiting.
Sighing, she flipped the robe's hood back over her head. "I'm alright. I'm fine. Really. Let's go load up the cargo."
He spent the next two hours watching her out of the corner of his eye.
Couldn't figure out what had made her leave the market. What had made her go from giggling and pressing on him and giving off scents that made him wanna do something imprudent...to crying in an elevator. Wondered, darkly, if someone had said something to her. Tried something she didn't like. He fucking hoped not. People tended to ask questions when bodies started popping up out of nowhere. Started compiling a mental list of places to hide a body on a spaceport.
Just in case.
Turned his attention back to Jack. She'd been silent since they came back to the ship. Hadn't even touched the food he'd put in front of her. Unfocused. Withdrawn. Gave him time to get a real good look. Her head was down, shoulders rolled forward. A fat tear rolled down the tip of her nose and splashed onto her plate.
Riddick felt his eyes narrow. What the fuck?
Decided, quickly, that he could just cram the body into an air vent if need be. They'd be gone long before it started to smell.
"Do you think they're dead?"
Huh. He stopped plotting, started listening. Who's dead?
"Abu," she said quietly. "And Lajjun. Ziza. Do you think they're dead? That he killed them - had them killed? Because of me? Because I left?"
He considered that for a long time. Thought about what he would do if someone took her from him. What he had done. Didn't look too shiny for the holy man, he admitted. To himself. Not to her.
To her he said, "The holy man can take care of himself. Made it off that planet, didn't he?"
Because Frye had a morality crisis and I decided to see where it went. 'Cause it bothered me to think about leaving you and you wouldn't leave anyone behind. Doubt the old man is gonna be that lucky twice.
He didn't say that out loud, either. Watched her nod and push her food to the other side of her plate. She didn't look convinced. It mattered, but he didn't know why. Dead or alive it wasn't likely she was going to see any of them again, either way. Not like he had any compelling reasons to set foot on Helion soil anymore. Not now that she was with him.
She feels guilty 'cause they might be dead and she's not. She here. With me. And she's starting to like it.
He chewed that over for a while, liking the taste.
Jack looked up at him then, eyes clouded with grief. Shame. Guilt. Looked so much like Carolyn had before she'd gotten stupid and gotten killed, that Riddick felt his jaw clench hard enough to hurt.
He sighed, pitched his voice low and soothing. "Look, we'll send a wave to New Mecca once we hit Deep. Still got the codes from when his wife waved me."
That brightened her up enough for her to finish her food and help load the new supplies. Finished with enough time for him to slip away to the bridge and send out an encrypted wave to Abu's wife. It'd take a couple hours, maybe a day or two, to come back. Satisfied that it was vague enough not to raise any suspicions if intercepted, he sent it, turned to leave. The comm beeped once, twice. Riddick turned back to the console, read the comm. An automatic response.
Codes were no longer valid. More than that, had never existed. Which wasn't right at all. They had been wiped. Wiped because someone had been trying to make sure that the holy man's woman couldn't send for anyone else. They knew.
He wasn't surprised. Not really. Hadn't made too much of an effort to hide his face from the Embassy security scanners. Anyone looking hard enough would be able to make the connection between him and Jack and Abu and that planet.
He stared at the comm for a long time. Then he deleted the message and wiped the codes. He'd tell her something. Later. Didn't have time to deal with it now.
Had a date with a doctor. Or something. At least someone who could run the machines he knew they'd salvaged from the old testing facility. Juggerson, or something like that. Old guy. Solid. Riddick had sniffed him out scrubbing bedpans on the thirteenth floor. Asked him some disarming questions, to make him feel at ease.
Told him some bullshit sob story about how he had a little sister who was sick. Congential something or other. Made her body weak, painful. Made her dependant on pain killers and hypes. Jack's scars would help support that little fib.
Told the man he wanted to fix her. Make her stronger. Offered money up front. The doc had seemed kinda hesitant at first, which tickled the shit out of Riddick. Place might not have been as much of a hell hole as when he'd last been there, but people didn't stay because of the fucking scenery. Everyone there was hiding from something, to some extent. Riddick was willing to bet his favorite shiv that the good doc had gotten in trouble somewhere for having a flexible view on the Hippocratic oath. Still, the old guy seemed concerned. Asked if Jack wanted the procedure, understood the risks.
Riddick had pulled out an untraceable chip with over five thousand credits. Maybe not enough to set the old man up on a Core-world, but enough to make him king of the station.
"She don't need to understand shit," he'd said, and put the chip in the man's hand. Doc didn't ask any more questions after that. Told Riddick the blending process would be easier if she were willing. Assured him, grinning, that if she wasn't, he had ways to make her. Riddick had thought about yanking the man's tongue out through his throat. Didn't. Just clapped him on the back like they were buddies. Like he wasn't planning on snapping his neck after the procedure was done and Jack was safely back on the ship.
The good doctor had told Riddick he could find and secure a room. Privately. Told him to bring his "sister" down to level five in three hours. That had been two and a half hours ago.
Time to go.