Riddick woke at the sound of a harness being released. He'd dozed off while listening to the breathing patterns of the merc crew – including the steady panting of the woman. Now, he could feel her looking at him as she shook off her dream.
Boots on metal. She was coming toward him. Keeping his eyes closed and his breathing even, Riddick felt her lean into him, sliding up his body without ever quite making contact. Oh, she was a brave one. Then she reached for his goggles, pushing them up onto his forehead.
Riddick's eyes snapped open. Never one to pass up a chance to work someone's nerves, he caught her thigh between his as she gasped and pulled back in surprise. "Do you know you grind your teeth at night?" he rumbled, fighting a grin as she struggled, jerking her hips in a futile effort to get away. "Sexy." When she yanked herself back again, he released her, and she stumbled backwards. She had balls; he'd give her that.
As they neared Crematoria's atmosphere, the rest of the crew began to wake. The woman assumed her position near the cockpit and started reading out stats as the computer unlocked the skiff's manual controls.
"All right. I make seven hundred degrees on the day side, three hundred below on the night side," she said, shrugging into her harness.
"Let's not get caught in the sun," the pilot agreed.
Toombs took a shot of tequila from a battered bottle and swished it around like mouthwash before adding, "If I owned this place and hell, I'd rent this place out and live in hell." Then, they were entering the atmosphere. Riddick used the roof of the ship to replace his goggles over his eyes and settled back into his restraint chair, bracing for a rough landing.
"Hit it!" called the woman, and the craft took a sharp dive toward the planet.
"Angle of approach, not good," the nav system announced. The fat merc and Toombs began to laugh – until the vicious Crematoria sun blasted through the front windows.
There was a jolt as they hit a sort of runway. "Party poppers!" shouted the pilot. The woman kicked a button and the whole ship jerked back, slowing. Finally, they slid into a hangar, the red-hot nose of the skiff crashing into the rock of the far wall.
"I think I shit myself," the fat one announced. Riddick smiled at that.
"Skittish, Toombs," he rumbled. "Very skittish."
The crew shackled Riddick and led him to the prison's transport sledge at gunpoint. After strapping him securely in the back, they took off at a break-neck speed, deep into the planet. Riddick watched the evenly spaced overhead lights, keeping time with his foot and calculating distance, already planning his escape. Not even boosting the fat merc off his chest – and off the speeding sledge – hindered his concentration. "Twenty-nine point four kilometers," he mused when they finally jerked to a stop. He could run the thirty klicks back to the hanger if he needed to; he wondered if Jack would be able to keep up.
The mercs unstrapped themselves and stretched as the slam's main doors opened, revealing the guards. "So, this is Riddick," announced one, his manner making it obvious that he was what passed for a warden in a place like this. His thick, Russkiy accent was laced with contempt for the man chained before him. Riddick didn't respond. He had work to do here – no need to start shit before it was absolutely necessary. And it would be necessary.
The mercs and prison guards unshackled Riddick, leading him into a shabby control room. They hooked a rope to his cuffs and started lowering him through a hole in the room's floor. Dangling and helpless, his arms stretched above his head, Riddick looked around as he descended into the bowls of Crematoria.
Suddenly, the rope jerked to a stop. With his sharp ears, Riddick could hear parts of the conversation going on above his head. Toombs – greedy bastard – was demanding a bigger bounty payout. "I'd take the money, Toombs," he offered, glancing up. The rope started to move again. By now, the other inmates had caught sight of him, and Riddick had more important things to worry about. As a banging started up announcing fresh meat to the rest of the slam's population, he scanned the levels of cells, searching for signs of Jack.
The rope halted again, and he decided he'd had enough of this bullshit. Whatever was going on in the control room was no longer his concern. Gauging his distance to the ground – and the human scum greedily eyeing his boots – Riddick made some quick calculations. Slowly, carefully, he pulled himself up and inverted his hanging position. When he allowed himself to drop, he used the momentum and recoil to wrap the rope around his waist, using his legs for an extra boost. When he released his hold, the rope unwound, and he plummeted toward the bottom of the pit. Bracing his shoulders against the pull, he used his magnified weight to shatter the chain holding his cuffs together.
Kyra watched as Riddick's boots hit the ground. She'd heard the clanging metal signifying new fish, and she'd come prepared for a good fight – she hadn't expected him. She looked on as he took out two of the sulfur-covered Yellow Men. But the third…
As the last one ran toward Riddick's back, Kyra threw out a length of chain; it wrapped around the attacker's throat, jerking him backward and snapping his spine. She met Riddick's goggled eyes for a moment as she reeled the links in, coiling them around her arm. Thoughts scrambling, she forced her expression to remain blank. When he pulled off his goggles, Kyra felt her heart surge at the sight of his familiar shine – then the Guv began speaking, pulling Riddick's attention away and saving her from any embarrassment.
"There are inmates, and there are convicts," Guv intoned, launching into his usual speech for newbies. "A convict has a certain code. And he knows to show a certain respect." Kyra used the cover to slip away, into the nooks and crannies of the rocky faces of the slam.
Riddick bit back a growl of frustration. That woman had been familiar…so goddamn familiar. Her hair was darker – longer, too – and her eyes winked silver instead of whatever Jack's had been – but the way she'd looked at him. Then this dumbass had started talking, and she'd gotten away.
"An inmate, on the other hand," the interrupter continued, "pulls the pin on his fellow man. Does the guards' work for them. Brings shame to the game." The man wound up what was obviously a well-rehearsed speech as he neared Riddick. "So," he concluded, "which are you gonna be?"
"Me?" Riddick replied, replacing his goggles and dismissing the crowd that had gathered around the fight. "I'm just passing through."
Kyra watched from her hiding spot as Riddick disappeared from the main floor. She'd given up hope that he would come looking for her years ago, so why now? Maybe just coincidence, but she had to be sure. Following at a safe distance, she tailed her former hero as he took stock of the slam. Finally, she saw her chance; she crept up behind him when he entered a deserted cell and jabbed one of her contraband blades into his back.
"Should I go for the sweet spot?" she purred by way of greeting. "Left of the spine, fourth lumbar down, the abdominal aorta? What a gusher." He lifted his goggles off his eyes and looked over his shoulder. "How do I get eyes like that?" Kyra repeated the question she'd asked on that hellacious planet.
"You gotta kill a few people," Riddick responded, just as he had nine years ago.
She chuckled humorlessly. "Did that," she ground out, pressing her knife harder against his flesh. "I did a lot of that." Suddenly, Riddick grabbed her and whipped her around. Slamming her against the bars of the cell, he pinned her arms over her head, neutralizing her weapon.
"Then you gotta get sent to a slam," he growled, almost lovingly.
"One where they tell you you'll never see daylight again?" Kyra shot back. "Only there wasn't any doctor here who could shine my eyes. He was barely a fuckin vet. And he wanted a hell of a lot more than a pack of Kools for the job. You fucking liar," she sneered.
That hit a nerve. Bracing a hand on the bar between Kyra's legs, Riddick shoved her up until she was at his eye level. He looked like he wanted to say something, but she just couldn't keep her mouth shut. "What're you gonna do, huh?" she taunted, ignoring the sting of metal scraping against her back. "Go for the sweet spot?" Only, both of them knew she didn't mean the abdominal aorta.
"Remember who you're talkin to – Jack," he rumbled.
"Jack's dead." Kyra spoke while feeling around for the blade she kept hidden in her cheek. "She was weak." There. "She couldn't cut it." Swinging her leg up, Kyra kicked out the bare bulb hanging next to her. The light momentarily blinded Riddick, and he let her drop. On the way down, she cut a tiny slash across his face. When he finally regained his sight, she was leaning nonchalantly on one of the bridges connecting the slam's levels. "The name's Kyra now," she announced. "And I'm a new animal."
Riddick watched as the kid threw herself over the bridge's railing, reaching up to wipe at the dampness on his left cheek. He was impressed that she'd gotten in a hit – drawn first blood. Seems like little Jack's all grown up.
Kyra kept an eye on Riddick as he moved around the slam, memorizing the layout. And possible escape routes. She was careful to keep out of sight, until he found the broken pipe that some inmates used as a shower. The sight of the tepid water sluicing over his muscles, of his clothes clinging to every plane and contour of his body, caught her attention. But she refused to admit that the familiar flutter in her belly had anything to do the man in front of her; instead, she told herself it was the thrill of catching Big Evil in a moment of such vulnerability.
Leaning on the railing, she pulled a small tin from one of the cargo pockets at her knee and flipped it open to reveal a coarse, yellow-white powder. She wet the tip of her middle finger with her tongue before coating it in the substance, then she put it in her mouth and sucked thoughtfully. As she felt the drugs go to work in her system, Kyra stashed the box and resumed drinking in the sight of Riddick. Then he settled his goggles over his eyes and turned toward her…
There she was. Jack – Kyra now, he reminded himself – was draped over a nearby railing, her lithe body contorted into a crouch. Riddick felt a stirring in his groin; the predatory look in her gaze was making him hard, her beast calling to his. Their eyes met for a long, heated moment, then someone was talking to him.
"Still here, I see?" It was the asshole from earlier – the one with the speech. "I've been here eighteen years. See this?" He fingered a thick silver wedding ring, visible outside his fingerless, leather gloves. "I remember how gorgeous she was," he continued, with a well-practiced smile. "Well, gorgeous in a certain light. And now, for the goddamn death of me, I cannot remember her name." Riddick was contemplating snapping the man's neck to put an end to the ridiculous speeches, when an ancient PA system crackled to life.
Chaos broke out. Prisoners ran back and forth, desperately searching for shelter from…what? Riddick could taste the panic in the air. "We're here for the rest of our unnatural lives," the Speech-Giver finished, before starting off in search of his own protection. Riddick stared after him for a moment, still curious about what was causing such terror. Then he turned to assess the situation.
"Whatever you do, don't make eye contact." Riddick started at the voice – the Speech-Giver had turned back to offer some more unwanted advice. Make eye contact with what? Riddick wondered briefly, but the other man disappeared into a cloud of steam and was gone.
Two guards were lowered through the central cavern, laughing at the panicking prisoners. Some barricaded themselves in cells, holding the doors shut against the coming threat. They fought for hiding spots, pushing and shoving one another out of the way, running pell-mell across bridges and up and down staircases. Kyra forced her way past them, searching for her own sanctuary, when one of the vicious hell hounds blocked her path. It snarled, stalking toward her. Not good.
But the bump she'd taken was still singing through her veins; she felt strong and damn near invincible. Leaping up and over the walkway's railing, she grasped one of the stray cables that led to nowhere and slid to a lower level. There, she took a moment to catch her breath before running to her cell and securing the makeshift lock.
Not long after the all-clear sounded and her buzz had started to fade, Kyra found herself cornered in a cell by four guards, all armed and looking for a little...entertainment. Slowly, she raised her hands into the air and backed towards the wall. No problem here, officer. She turned around to face the rock and waited.
"Check her for me. She's always got a blade somewhere," said one, as another approached her with a cocky swagger. He'd better not... Kyra thought idly, knowing he would; it's why they'd sought her out, after all. And as the guard patted her down, he paused for a feel and a quick squeeze as he passed over her ass. Kyra gritted her teeth but took it. As long as it doesn't stray any farther.
When his fingers started to move around and into the waistband of her pants, she decided she'd had enough of this little game – she was too goddamn expensive to let anyone grope her for free. Time to change the rules a bit. With a quick twist of her foot, Kyra triggered the pressure release on the blades hidden in her boots. She brought her heel up into the belly of the handsy guard behind her, then pushed against the wall so she could spin and catch him in the side of the head with her other boot. Once her blade was free, she got his skull between her feet and twisted – there was a vicious crack as the man sank to his knees.
Seizing the opportunity, Kyra grabbed the mallet from his loosening grip and swung, hitting him hard. When he started to fall forward, she delivered one last, vicious kick to his jaw. As Kyra flipped away, the guard went tumbling out of the cell, crashing into the wall next to his buddies.
The group stood shocked for a second, frozen, before two other guards attacked. She held her own, fending them off with the stolen weapon until the leader clubbed her from behind. He and his second in command had her on the floor with the sharpened shaft pulling back on her throat when a voice spoke from the shadows.
"I don't think she likes being touched." Riddick stepped into the cell, a tin cup in one of his massive hands. "I'd take my wounded and go," he added calmly, "while you still can."
The guard holding Kyra – the second in command – released her and looked at Riddick incredulously. "Is there a name for this private little world of yours, huh?" he asked derisively. "What happens there when we don't just run away? You'll kill us? With a soup cup?" The other guards chuckled.
Behind them, Kyra struggled to her feet, using the cell bars to pull her aching body up and out of the way as fast as possible; she had some idea about what was coming, even if the guards didn't.
"Tea, actually," Riddick replied calmly.
That stopped the laughter. "What's that?" Second-in-Command demanded.
Riddick drained his cup and repeated, "I'll kill you with my teacup." He set it down gently on a nearby rock ledge. Kyra smiled knowingly as the guards looked at each other. You're in trouble now, boys.
"You know the rule," the Leader muttered. "They aren't dead if they're still on the books." That seemed to be all the permission the Second needed. With a soft grunt of agreement, he pulled his knife and lunged at Riddick. Lightning fast, Riddick grabbed the cup, hit it on the rock to sharpen its edge, and buried it in his opponent's chest. He gave it a twist and shoved the man away from him.
Now, the remaining guards looked scared. "Come on," the Leader challenged, but it was an empty threat. Slowly, Riddick bent and picked up a discarded ration tin key from the floor, setting it where the cup had been. After a long, tense moment, the guards broke and ran, dragging their wounded comrade behind them.
Kyra knelt and pulled the cup from Second's chest. "Death by teacup," she said. "Damn. Why didn't I think of that?"
"I didn't come to play 'Who's the Better Killer'," Riddick replied, turning away from her.
"But it's my favorite game. Haven't you heard?"
"I heard you came lookin for me," he shot back.
Feeling bitchy from her come-down, she decided to needle him. "Is that all?" Kyra mused. She rose, toying with the cup as she spoke, "Then you missed the good part. Hooked up with some mercs outta Lupus 5. Said they'd take me on, teach me the trade, give me a good cut." She set the cup down hard before continuing. "They slaved me out, Riddick. Do you know what they do to you when you're that age? When you're twelve years old?"
Really? She was blaming him? "I told you to stay in New Mecca," Riddick gritted out, turning to face her; he could feel his beast rattling its cage. "Did you not listen?" he shouted, ripping the single bare bulb from the cell's ceiling – wiring and all. He yanked his goggles from his face and glared at her. "I had mercs on my neck," he growled. "I'll always have mercs on my neck. I spent nine years on a frozen heap just to keep 'em away from you." He paused, letting that sink through the kid's thick skull; he'd disappeared for her, dammit. Then, almost to himself, he continued, "And you go and sign up with the same fake badges that wanted to cut you up and use you for bait."
Kyra fought back a snort. "What're you pitching, Riddick?" she taunted, her voice rising as he turned away from her. "That you cuttin out was a good thing? That you had my ass covered from halfway across the universe?"
"You signed with mercs," he repeated, still not quite believing the words. Slowly, he began to walk back out into the main prison cavern, until Kyra's voice stopped him.
"There was nobody else around." With that, she disappeared deeper into the maze of cells, slamming the door behind her.