Title: Nothing if Not Time
Author: EmmaFrost
Email: emmafrostuk AT gmail.com
Rating: ADULT
Summary: What if Riddick had escaped before the Hunter-Grazner had flown through the tail of that "rogue comet"?
Disclaimers: The characters of Richard B. Riddick, Carolyn Fry, Pete Mitchell, Walter Owens and William Johns belong to Universal Studios and their other various copyright owners. I make no claim on them and do not intend to profit from the use of them in this work of fiction. All other characters are mine; kindly seek my permission if you plan to use them.
Warnings: Harsh Language, Explicit Rape, Explicit Sexual Content, Graphic Violence/Gore.
Author's Notes: This fic is an attempt at first person present from both Riddick's and Carolyn's points of view. Working in their distinct 'voices' was a real challenge. Let me know if you think I got it right. Also, this story isn't, strictly speaking, finished. There's a jump between the scene where Riddick exacts his revenge against Johns and the final couple of scenes. That jump encompasses over two weeks in story time and about three chapters that I never wrote because I lost the feel for this Riddick after seeing "Chronicles." Sorry! Hope you can still enjoy.

 

They say most of the brain shuts down in cryo-sleep. All but the primitive side. The animal side. No wonder Iím still awake . . .

And hereís my real problem. Mr. Johns. Blue-eyed devil. Planning on taking me back to slam. Only this time he picked a ghost lane. Long time between stops. Long time for something to go wrong.

This time, itís the bindings the merc has put on my wrists to keep me chained. The right tether is loose, but not enough to slide my hand through. Yet. But Iíve got nothing if not time.

How many days have passed while Iíve worked the tether? I canít tell. Thereís no difference between day and night on the ship. No change beyond the blindfold wrapped around my eyes. With the cryo-drugs pumping through me, I donít feel hunger. I canít tell how long has passed, only that my wrist has rubbed raw from my small movements against the rough fabric, frozen, healed under its icy scab, only to rub raw again. Days, weeks, maybe months. I donít know.

All I know is that the tether gets fractionally looser, until finally, my hand slips through.

The fucking bit comes out first. Just being able to close my mouth, lay my tongue flat, is such a relief itís almost orgasmic. I peel the blindfold back to see my other wrist. Itís short work to free it and yank out the tube pumping cryo-shit into my vein. Comparatively. And Iíve got nothing if not time.

Thereís no release lever in my security cryo-locker, but the lid yields to several hard kicks from my still-chained feet.

I stand in a pool of freezing vapor, listening. No klaxon. No rising whine of other coffins opening. Stupid fucks. They were so confident that cryo-sleep would hold me that they didnít set an alarm, didnít rig Johnsí pod to trigger if mine opened. Their mistake. For some of them, itís going to be a fatal mistake.

I free my feet and spend a long time stretching, working blood back into my frozen extremities, strength and feeling back into my locked muscles.

Then I hunt for a weapon.

Some spare ducting finally provides what I need. Sharpened, the metal edge slices easily through the ice-coated tubes leading to the coffins marked ĎCaptain Mitchellí and ĎFirst Officer Owens.í After some consideration, I leave the tubes leading to ĎPilot Fryísí locker alone. I can fly, but Iíve never tried anything beyond little prison transports. This star-jumperís beyond my skills. And after seeing the pretty woman in ĎPilot Fryísí locker, I might have more than one use for the Hunter-Graznerís pilot.

I linger the longest in front of Johnsí tube. William Johns. Mercenary and murderer. The temptation to slice through the thin lines tying the fucker to life is almost overwhelming. His frosted face fades into a leer as I remember him standing over Annie and the kids. Heíd terrorized them into silence, but I didnít need to hear them sobbing to know what heíd done to them. Their torn clothing, their shattered expressions, told me everything I needed to know. Edís body, crumpled in the corner, his bloodied hands still gripping a wrench, confirmed it. Theyíd fought, but Johns had won. And once heíd gotten me into chains by holding his gauge to the little boyís head, heíd made me watch while he used them again, before putting a round through each of their chests.

I want to ghost him so bad I can taste it. Tastes copperish. Like fresh blood. But I finally turn away. Thatís too quick and easy a death for him. Johns is going to suffer before he dies.

Instead I smash the controls on Pilot Fryís cryo-pod and wait impatiently while she thaws. The cover of her pod opens in a cloud of vapor, revealing a small, pale-haired woman in a fitted flight suit. She blinks groggily, disoriented. When she begins murmuring something, I reach in, grab her by the hair and haul her out of the tube. Her mouth falls open, but she swallows a scream, staring up into my shined eyes.

"You know who I am?" I ask her. My voice is soft. But I tighten my fist in her hair, venting a little of my rage at Johns on her.

"Yes," she hisses. Her face twists in pain, hands reaching for her head. I let her down a few centimeters. No point ripping out that silky-soft hair.

"Then you know better than to fuck with me. And if you need a reminderó" I drag her the few steps to the other two crew lockers and shove her nose-to-nose with her dead Captain.

Her body tenses as she registers her Captainís bloodless, still face through the clear plaz.

"Wha-what," she stammers.

"Same thing Iíll do to you if you fuck with me. Only youíll be awake. Understand?"

Her body sags in my grip. "Yes."

"Good." I give her a shake for emphasis and let her drop onto her heels. "Get going." I shove her towards the flight deck.

There, I test her by having her point out the communications equipment. She points out the deep space relay, but not the emergency beacon. Reaching under the console, I rip out the transceiver and grind it into silicon dust under my boot heel.

She stares at me, wide-eyed. But I donít buy her doe act. She doesnít smell of fear, not the way she should. Holding her eyes, I reach across her and smash the beacon controls.

When she looks back at me, Iím holding the shiv against her throat.

"Told you not to fuck with me." I press the point into her white skin for emphasis. "Donít do it again."

She nods, and now the sour fruit scent of fear rolls off her. I give her a smile, cold and cruel, before I sink into the co-pilotís chair.

She sits quietly for a few seconds, staring at her hands, twisted together in her lap. "Where are we going?" she asks finally.

"Kelsin system."

"Thatís a long way from here."

I nod. At least she knows her way around the Frontier. "Six weeks at supercee."

"Thatís about right." She reaches forward and taps the console. A star chart appears in the viewer.

"Did I tell you to touch anything?" I growl. I donít mind that sheís starting to work, but signs of independence have to be crushed immediately. Weíre still establishing whoís boss. I canít let her forget until Iím sure she understands her true position.

She sinks back in her seat. "You canít expect me to ask permission before everything I do."

I rise from the chair and tower over her, planting my hands on either armrest of her chair and leaning into her. She shrinks from me, but still I donít smell much fear.

"Yeah, I do. And you will, or Iíll ghost you like the other two. Got it?"

She nods, but her jaw is set mulishly.

I grab her by the front of her uniform and haul her up out of the chair to my eye-level. "Six weeks of obedience too long to trade for your life?" I push the point of the shiv into her ribs for emphasis.

"Kill me and youíll never see the Kelsin system," she says.

She holds my eyes. She thinks she has leverage.

"Fuck with me again and neither you nor the forty-odd you got on ice back thereíll ever see anything beyond Kelsin. You willing to gamble with their lives, too?"

Fear glimmers in her eyes, but defiance shines there, too. Sheís not reacting to the blade in her side. At least not as she should. If I dig it in much further, Iíll cut her. How will she react to a punctured lung? Annieís shattered face drifts across the pilotís features. No, I donít want her like that. I ease the blade away from her as I mentally shuffle through other methods of control. Physical domination is the easiest, but itís not the only way. In slam, sometimes all I had was the mind-fuck. Sheís young, pretty, clearly competent, but she was still riding third chair behind the two men. Ambitious? Maybe thereís a button to push.

I look her up and down. Curl my lip into a sneer. "That the best you can do for them?" I ask, dropping my voice in contempt. "No wonder you havenít made Captain."

Her face crumples. Bingo. I release her and dust off my hands like Iím disgusted at having to touch her. She slides back into the flight chair and sits slumped, her hands folded together between her thighs.

I settle into the co-pilotís chair and let the silence deepen, weigh her down, for a few minutes.

"Now you can touch the controls," I say finally.

She lifts her head and I can see the tear tracks glisten on her cheeks. Sheís been crying silently, swallowing any noise she might have made. I have to admire her for that. Sheís pushy, but sheís not stupid.

She touches the controls tentatively, her hands shaking.

"Fastest route to Kelsin," she says, her voice tremulous. "Weíll need to make two sling-shots. At Nectar Point and the Brevin Cluster." She points them out on the chart. "We donít have enough fuel to do the Brevin jump."

"Then youíll need to find some."

Her hands shake and she clenches them into fists. Oh, she wants to snap back at me. But she controls herself. Good girl, sheís learning.

She says, low and tight, "The reactor runs on heavy water. But it can take regular H2O, too. All we need is a water world."

"Good. Find one."

She does, and then she lays in the course, checking and double-checking the coordinates. I watch her carefully, tracking what sheís doing on the co-pilotís console. As far as I can tell, she plays it straight. For the moment. I havenít broken her, and the defiance will be back. But itís more amusing than irritating right now. So she can have her small moments, as long as she doesnít do anything to seriously screw up my plans.

She starts checking the trajectories a third time and I can tell sheís stalling. Sheís methodical, precise, and I appreciate that. Getting lost somewhere on the Deep Frontier is not part of my escape plan. But sheís sure of her calculations now. The little line that creased her brow when she double-checked the flight path the first time is gone. Sheís just killing time, afraid of what I might want from her next.

I yawn. Sheís got me wrong if sheís afraid of me trying to jump her right now. All I want now is to eat something and sleep off the last of the lingering disorientation.

"You about done?"

She starts, stills herself with an effort. "Yes."

"Good. Finish up. Letís go." I rise, stretch. My back pops like a projectile weapon. It seizes all the way down my right leg. Fuck, Iím stiff.

She punches the sequence into the flight computer a final time. A faint ripple runs through the ship. It rises to a rumble as the thrusters engage, turning us away from our path towards New Mecca.

"How long to the first jump?"

"Three days," she says, climbing out of the flight chair.

Three days to kill. Looking at her, trim and curvy in her flight suit, I can think of a lot of ways to spend those seventy-two hours. I smile at the thought and she shudders, wrapping her arms around herself. I canít help but grin. Sheís so transparent. She keeps handing me ways to control her. But she doesnít have any reason to fear me now. Iím so fatigued I couldnít fuck her even if she was tied down.

With one hand, I gesture her to lead the way off the flight deck. I watch her pert ass appreciatively as she proceeds me down the hall. Okay, if she was tied down, I might give it a go.

My chuckle makes her jump.

*

Silence makes her fidgety. She makes fluttery gestures with those small, capable fingers, like she wants to brush the silence away, fill it with something comforting. So I let the silence stretch, not speaking a word to her while we eat except to say, "Get used to the dark," when I slap her hand away from the light controls as we enter the small crew galley.

The shipís recyclers are probably pretty basic in comparison to what sheís used to, but after the pap in slam, what they dispense tastes like manna to me. I savor each bite, rolling it around in my mouth the way I roll her scent in and out of my lungs. She still smells a little of fear, but underneath thereís a nice female scent, musky and warm. And a floral note, very faint, probably soap or something she used before cryo-sleep. Apple blossoms. Very nice. Iíve never liked women who smell of roses. That smell always reminds me of funerals.

I finish and wipe my mouth with satisfaction. She drops her eyes as soon as I look at her, and pushes her food around on her plate some more. I think sheís eaten about three bites.

"You done?"

She nods. Even with her head down, I can see the color leach from her cheeks. She thinks itís coming now. Now that Iíve gotten her to do what I wanted and have satisfied one hunger, Iíll satisfy another. Sheís not wrong about that second hunger. I havenít had a fuck in so long that a curvy chair could turn me on right about now. But Iíve never forced myself on anyone, man or woman. I donít see the pleasure in it. Far more fun to tease, cajole, seduce, until itís given willingly. Carolynís so full of fear and rage that sheíll take more persuasion than most.

Let the games begin.

*

He finishes a huge pile of food with evident gusto and looks at me with those eerie, glacial eyes. The little food Iíve managed to choke down turns leaden in my stomach. Itís going to happen now. Maybe even on the table between us. Murdering rapists donít care about niceties like doing it on a bed, do they?

He rises. I shrink down in my seat, trying to make myself as small as possible. Absurd, I know. As if I could escape his notice now. But itís another of those damnable self-preservation instincts. The same ones that finally shut me up rather than continue to defy him. I wanted to, oh, how badly I wanted to. I wanted to spit in his face, scream at him that he could gut me a thousand times but I wouldnít take him anywhere except back to prison where I hoped they threw him in the darkest hole they had and lost the key. But that shitty instinct, that belly-crawling, head-down, self-preservation instinct, closed my throat and kept me silent. As silent as Captain Mitchell and Owens. As silent as the forty sleeping passengers that itís my duty to protect. From him. Iím not sure I can even protect myself. Dear God, how did it all come down to me?

I lift my head again at a scraping noise. Heís pushed his tray across the glass-topped table, picked it up before it reached the edge, and walked back towards the recyclers. Is he clearing the tabletop before he rapes me on it? I follow him with my eyes but donít move. He hasnít told me I can, and that crappy, cowardly instinct keeps me still until he does.

He glances back over his shoulder at me, a shimmer of silver from those demonic eyes.

"Whatíre you waiting for?"

"You havenít told me I can move." It comes out sullenly. Not at all the way I want it to sound, but that damnable instinct is hard at work, keeping me alive.

He chuckles. That sound trickles down my spine like ice-water. Itís a cruel sound, his laugh. I despise it.

"You can get up, Carolyn."

The sound of my name slides down my spine, too. But itís not icy. Itís hot, rich, like melted chocolate. It makes me shudder where his laugh only made me hate him.

But how does he know my name? Itís not on my crew badge, or my cryo-locker. The only place he might have seen it is in the shipís manifest, or the crew files. Is that what he was doing at the co-pilotís console while I was entering the flight path to Kelsin? I thought all he was doing was double-checking my calculations. He clearly knows more about flying than the average goose. I should have figured that out sooner. It was stupid not to show him the emergency beacon. That was a test, one I failed. But he failed it, too. He showed me that he knows something about ships, enough to know where the comm systems are, but not enough to be confident piloting to Kelsin by himself. So he needs me, at least for a while.

And if I can stay alive long enough, Iíll figure out a way to trip him up.

"Címon, Carolyn. I said you could get up."

I jump to my feet, shaking off my wool-gathering. Idiot, stay alert. But itís hard. My mind keeps shooting off on tangents. My eyes are gritty with exhaustion. I ache everywhere. My head, my back, my arms and legs. Cryo-sleep always leaves me drained for a day or two, like the worst possible case of jet lag. I long to sleep, but Iím afraid he wonít let me. Not yet, at least.

I carry my tray to the row of silver recyclers, where heís waiting for me. After a moment, I realize he doesnít know what to do, so I flick on the return-cycler and wait for it to warm up before sliding my tray into it. With a crunch, the tray and my left-overs disappear. He follows suit, watching the process curiously. When he looks up, he catches me watching him.

"Big improvement over slam," he grunts.

I shift warily, unsure of how to take this. Heís barely said anything to me, and nothing at all about himself. Is this an opening? An invitation?

I point to the wall behind the recyclers. "The system breaks it all down into component molecules. Tray, silverware, napkin, food, everything. Then this oneó" I tap the first recycler in the row. "This one reassembles the molecules for the cutlery, tray, containers, and rehydrates the food concentrates."

"Didnít ask for a guided tour, Carolyn," he says. His voice is rich with amusement. At my expense. I look away. What an idiot I am, jumping at the smallest opening. I want to see him as human, as reachable. But Iím fooling myself. Thereís nothing human about Richard B. Riddick.

"Where díyou sleep?" he asks.

I canít control a shudder. So he does want to rape me in a bed. Heíll probably want me to sleep there afterwards. Easy access for round two.

I swallow hard, my mind racing. I canít let him do this to me. I havenít let a man touch me in years. Not since Neils screwed me over. I canít let this monster inside my body. I glance at him, taking in his size now that weíre standing side by side. Heís huge. He towers over me. His massive shoulders seem to take up half the galley. If his thing is in proportion to the rest of him, heíll tear me in half. I cannot let him do this to me.

"I-I donít," I stammer, trying to come up with something, anything, to stave off the inevitable.

"You donít sleep?" he asks, that dark amusement deepening his voice again.

"No, I mean, I usually go right into cryo after take-off."

"Ah," he says. "No sleeping quarters aboard?"

There are. If he turns down the main corridor from the galley heíll find them himself without any trouble. Theyíre not marked, but theyíre not locked, either. All he has to do is start opening doors.

If I lie to him, heíll be twice as brutal, twice as hurtful. I donít think I can take that. "Y-yes."

"Good. Lead the way."

God, no.

I take two steps forward. I hear him fall into step behind me, his breathing at my back. Itís that sound, the sound of his harsh breathing, the sound that Iíll have to listen to when heís above me, inside me, that finally breaks me free of my cowering instinct.

I slam my hand into the recyclerís controls. It spits silverware at me and I grab a fork. Spinning and crouching defensively, I wave the utensil at him.

"Stay away from me." I can hear the hysteria in my own voice, but I canít control it.

Riddick rubs a hand over his mouth like heís trying not to smile. Bastard. He lets his other hand idle at his side, but Iím not fooled. He could have that wicked blade out in a heartbeat.

"Carolyn," he says slowly, like heís talking to a child, "what díyou think youíre gonna do with that?"

I wave the fork at him. "I-I could take your eye out."

He hangs his head and shakes it slowly, but I can still see his evil grin.

"I could!"

He moves in a blur, catching my free hand and whipping me around. His arm snakes around my throat and yanks me back tight against him. His ankle slams into mine, forcing my feet apart. Iím shoved off-balance, thrown forward against his forearm. His hand closes on my wrist, crushing, grinding the bones together.

With a sob, I drop the fork.

I sag in his arms. How did he do that so easily? How am I supposed to defend myself against him?

He holds me against his chest, his arm still across my throat, but not strangling me. His hand remains around my wrist, but no longer crushing the small bones there. Heís just holding me, waiting to see what I do next. I can feel him peering down at me, like a snake watching a bird caught in its coils. Heís not even breathing hard. Maybe I only imagined his breathing before. Maybe it was my own heart pounding in my ears.

His lips brush my hair when he speaks.

"You done?"

I nod, defeated.

"Pick a better weapon next time, Carolyn. Doubt you couldíve broken my skin with that." He releases me, steadying me with a hand on my shoulder as I sway. I turn awkwardly, off-balance, straining to look up at him.

"You-youíre notó?"

"Angry?" He yawns, shakes his head. "I like a little entertainment with my food." He grins, turns it into a leer. "Foreplayís good for the digestion."

My insides turn to ice and I let myself fall to the ground. If he wants to rape me in a bed, heís going to have to drag me there.

He towers over me, silhouetted in the faint emergency light thatís all heís let me have on. "Címon, Carolyn. Get up."

I shake my head, rocking back and forth on my hands and knees. "No, no, no. I wonít let you."

"Wonít let me what? Sleep?"

I look up at him, meeting his iridescent, half-lidded eyes. I feel a tear slip down my cheek and bat at it angrily. I wonít cry in front of him. I wonít. "Is that all weíre going to do? Sleep?"

He tucks his hands behind his back and cocks his head to one side, studying me. "Maybe."

"Please. Please, Riddick." Now Iím begging him. I bite my lips to stop myself, but I canít take it back.

"Whatíll you do?"

"Wh-what?"

"Whatíll you do? To keep me off you tonight. Whatíll you give me?"

He wants payment for not raping me? I rock back on my heels and glare at him.

"What do you mean? I donít-I donít have any money on-board."

He pretends to study one of his hands. Iíve studied them already, wondering if he could beat me, strangle me, kill me with them. Theyíre incongruous, his hands. Long-fingered, almost elegant, with trimmed, shapely nails. Not a killerís hands.

He turns his hand over, inspects a fingernail.

"No? Too bad." He shrugs and begins to move toward me.

"I-I have some jewelry." My old wedding rings are in my carry-on.

"What am I gonna do with your jewelry? Play dress up?"

"You could sell it."

He shakes his head. "Too easy to trace. ĎSpecially stones. Theyíre all imprinted now. What else you got?"

My mind races as I think through the contents of my carry-on. My credit chip is implanted in my thumb. I couldnít give it to him even if I wanted to. Other than that, all I have with me are a few changes of clothes for the other end of the trip and some toiletries.

"My underwear?" Iím grasping at straws, but I think Iíve read somewhere that convicts like womenís underwear.

Riddick roars with laughter.

"If I want your underwear, Carolyn, Iíll take them warm."

He means heíll take them off me. I shrink back. "I-I donít have anything else."

"No?" He shrugs. "Then you got nothing to bargain with."

My mind flails. Anything, anything.

"Iíll give you a blow-job," I blurt out. I clap my hand over my mouth as I say it. Did I really just offer to fellate him? But anything, anything is better than having him rape me.

He stops in sinuous mid-motion. "Really? Hmm." His chin wrinkles as he considers this. Or pretends to. I have the sense that his mind works a thousand times faster than mine.

"Okay," he shrugs. "If thatís the best you can do. Letís go."

He sounds nonchalant, unconcerned. As if Iíd offered him a drink instead of taking his dick in my mouth. I struggle to my feet and follow him. He waits for me in the corridor, falling into step beside me as I lead him to the sleeping quarters. I canít look at him, canít stand to see the amusement on his face, the glow of his shined eyes. How can I suck this monsterís dick? How can I touch him without gagging, vomiting? Will he kill me if I throw up on him?

I palm open the door to the sleeping quarters and stand aside to let him inspect them. Theyíre serviceable, not luxurious. There are two separate rooms with double beds and a shared refresher. Standard for a commercial-grade transport like the H-G. My carry-on is stowed in a cubby in the first room. I glance at the two carry-ons above mine. Their names are printed on the sides of their luggage. Pete Mitchell. Walter Owens. I look away.

Riddick methodically checks the rooms, opening drawers, examining the Ďfresher and the two closets. He picks up a few things and slips them into his pocket. He opens the three carry-ons and goes through them item by item. From my bag he removes a nail-file and a small vial of the perfume I wear sometimes. The nail-file goes in his pocket. The perfume he sets out on the night-stand.

He glances at me as he heads back into the Ďfresher. "Get undressed."

No. No, no, and no. My mind revolts at the idea of being naked in front of him. I grab my bag, rummage until I find my one nightgown. I change as fast as I can, throwing the slip over my head while still struggling to push my uniform down over my hips.

The sound of the chemical shower in the Ďfresher mocks my frantic efforts. Heís showering. How can he be so calm about this?

I remove my uniform in a more orderly fashion and hang it in one of the empty closets. My hands are shaking so badly it takes me three tries to get the uniform on a hanger. I have to get a grip on myself.

Dressed, I feel marginally better, despite the thin protection my nightgown offers. I start to move automatically, climbing into the bed, but stop and staring at it like a snake across my path. Can I get into it, knowing what I have to do in it? My mind circles.

I register the silence, the absence of the shower-sound, with a start. Too late. He walks through the door from the Ďfresher wearing only a towel around his waist. His bare skin glistens in the low light. Itís a caramel color, rich and warm. Another incongruity. Thereís nothing warm about Richard B. Riddick.

"Get in bed," he growls. My feet move against my will, that damn survival instinct kicking in again and propelling me to do his bidding. I sit on the edge of the bed with my back to him, listening to him shed the towel and slide between the covers.

"Lights off," he says. Then he sighs. Does even the low light hurt those inhuman eyes? Finally, maybe, a sign of weakness.

"Carolyn, lie the fuck down. You can stay on your side. Iím not gonna touch you."

I turn my head and stare into the darkness, trying to see him. All I can make out is a shadow against the sheets. "Bu-bu-butó"

"You owe me a blow-job? Later. Iím too tired to enjoy it right now. Lie down. Go to sleep."

I finally obey him, climbing into the bed and laying stiff and scared with my back to him. I keep expecting him to touch me, to turn me over. For his weight to press me into the mattress. But it doesnít happen. And after long moments of it not happening, fatigue catches up with me and I close my eyes.

*

When I wake in the darkness, thereís a warm weight against my side. I donít need to open my eyes to see what it is. I can smell Carolyn. That faint floral scent is stronger now. But itís still a sweet, fresh scent. Almost edible. Maybe from the slip sheís wearing. Coming out of the Ďfresher to find her standing by the bed, dressed in a little white slip that did more to reveal than conceal the curves of her body was almost too tempting. She looked good enough to eat. Lucky for her I was too tired to contemplate anything but sleep.

The silk of her nightgown lies slippery-soft against my skin, pressed there by her breasts and stomach and hip. Sheís lying in the curve of my arm, her arm thrown across my chest, her round thigh tucked between mine. I smile. Sheíd be mortified if she woke right now and found herself cuddled up to me. Sheíd blame me, no doubt, but she did this all by herself. Iím used to sleeping on a three by seven bunk. I barely even twitch in my sleep.

I like this position. I havenít slept with a woman in longer than I can remember; Iíd forgotten the small pleasures of it. I almost like Carolyn, her amusing mix of competence and self-doubt, cowed subservience and defiance, and there arenít many I say that about.

I savor the feeling of her for a while, the softness of her skin, the pleasant pressure of her weight on me, the sensuous touch of the silk. Theyíre all alien sensations, doubly delightful for having been missed for so long. Finally I have to stretch and slide out from under her. My bladderís too full to go back to sleep without relieving it first. When I return, sheís rolled onto her other side. I lie down and stretch out with my hands behind my head, careful not to touch her.

After years of the bunks in slam, the bed seems massive to me, even though I know itís really not large at all, just big enough for us to lie on our respective sides without touching. Lying alone on my side, I miss the warmth and softness of her body against mine, but itís better this way. Iíll fall asleep faster without a hard-on.

But after a few minutes, as Iím beginning to drift, she stirs, shuffles under the covers, and scoots back against me. She nestles into my side again, her head inching up onto my shoulder, her back pressing against me, her round cheeks pushing against my hip. Fuck the hard-on, I want to feel all of her, not just these too few points of connection. I shift onto my side and wrap around her, spooning her into my chest and stomach and thighs. Her ass settles maddeningly against my groin. But I really am too tired. My cock stirs half-heartedly, and then, thankfully, relaxes.

Carolyn sighs in her sleep. Her small hands wrap around mine and she curls our joined hands against her chest until theyíre cushioned between her breasts. I open my hand. One of her soft breasts settles naturally into my palm. Oh, she really will blow a gasket if she wakes up. Sheís so modest, so reticent about sex. Like some kind of neo-Catholic schoolgirl. Most women would take it as a given that Iím going to fuck them. They might even offer first to score a few points. Not Carolyn. She only offered to blow me to stop me from raping her. And she was so horrified that I accepted her offer it almost broke her. I could see it in her eyes. She nearly panicked when she thought sheíd have to go through with it. Having her owe me a blow-job is too good a chip to use so soon, though. If she keeps handing me chips like this, I wonít need to figure out her other buttons.

I rub my face in her hair as I close my eyes, enjoying the silky brush of the pale curls against my chin and cheeks. Ah, I could get used to this. Freedom, the merc on ice, and a warm, if not exactly willing, woman in my bed. Really not a lot more that I could ask for.

*

Carolyn wakes before I do, and her tiny, frantic movements as she tries to extricate herself from my arms without waking me accomplish exactly what sheís trying to avoid. I tighten my arms around her.

"Wriggling like thatís gonna give me ideas," I say into her hair.

She goes rigid instantly and I have to control a chuckle. Itís just too easy to yank her chain.

I yawn, stretch, and rub my piss hard-on against her ass. It doesnít need much encouragement before itís pushing firmly into her crack. Sheís shuddering, the sour scent of fear rolling off her in waves.

I canít help baiting her a little more. "Whatís wrong, Carolyn? Your pristine ass is safe as long as you give me a little head. Whaddo you say? Ready to go?"

Her swallow is so loud it echoes in the small cabin. Iíd like to keep going, maybe get her to put those small white hands on my cock, but I really do need a piss. I roll away from her and head toward the Ďfresher.

"Never mind, Carolyn. Itíll have to wait. Mother Nature calls." I toss over my shoulder.

When I return, sheís up out of bed and dressed in a fresh uniform: short tunic and fitted pants, with darker accents on the shoulders and down the sides. I survey the uniform for a moment. She looks good in it and Iím tempted to let her wear it, despite the fact that she put it on without my permission.

But being dressed again has brought that spark of defiance back to her eyes. Since the first stop after breakfast is the flight deck to check on our progress towards the jump point, Iím not sure I want her defiant right now. Also, the thought of getting back into the grimy trousers and vest I shucked on the Ďfresher floor last night is unappetizing. With a tweak of the climate controls, I could be comfortable in just my briefs, or in nothing at all, which has a certain appeal after years of prison-issue. But having her in uniform while Iím in my skivvies is a psychological disadvantage. No dice.

"Toss me your bag."

Shock registers in those wide eyes. In the near dark, my vision gone over to shades of purple and red, I canít tell what color they are. Theyíre pale, maybe blue or gray. Whatever their color, Carolynís eyes are extremely expressive, and almost always give her away.

She pulls down the bag and clutches it to her chest for a moment. Then she slowly extends it to me. I paw through until I find fresh underwear for her: a midriff-length halter and boy-shorts. Sheís lucky. If sheíd had a lace bra and thong in her bag, Iíd have made her wear those. The halter and shorts will cover more of her than the dresses I saw women wearing during my last run.

I toss her the underwear. "Take that off and put those on."

"Wh-wha-why?"

I smile, amused that I make her stutter. "Because I told you to, Carolyn."

A muscle works in her jaw, but she follows my orders. I pretend to ignore her while she changes, ostensibly hunting up a fresh pair of briefs from her Captainís bag. But Iím watching her, watching the expanses of bare skin she reveals as she takes off her uniform, the smooth play of skin over muscle and bone when she moves, the hint of pale curls between her legs as she bends over to draw on the shorts. So sheís a natural blonde. Nice, but not surprising. I have the sense that Carolyn doesnít do artifice. She probably doesnít play politics, either, which Iím guessing is the real reason she hasnít made Captain.

She pulls on the underwear in frantic haste. Iím sorry to see her covered again, but itís probably a good thing since stuffing my erection into her Captainís shorts is going to be impossible in another moment.

"Okay, Carolyn, letís go."

She follows me without a word, but the silence as we start to eat breakfast clearly disconcerts her. She starts making those fluttery gestures again, looking up, opening her mouth to speak, and then dropping her eyes to her food again. Iím not really interested in conversation while I savor the first eggs, ersatz bacon and reconstituted orange juice that Iíve had in a while, but sheís so uncomfortable sheís not eating and if she goes on like this for long, sheíll be too weak to pilot the ship. I can humor her a little to keep us on course.

"How long you been with this ship?"

"Two years," she says. A flicker of relief passes through her eyes and she takes a bite of her eggs. "Captain Mitchell took me on after Iíd finished deep-jump training."

"Right out of school?"

"No. I did short-hop transport for five years. Then I trained for deep jumps."

Which makes her almost thirty, if civvie flight training takes as long as Ranger training did. She doesnít look it. Her bodyís still firm. No crowís feet. No lines around her mouth. Good genetics, or good design. These days you canít tell.

"What made you pick the long-haul?" Iím not actually interested, but it keeps the conversation flowing. Keeps her eating.

She shrugs. "I wanted to get away from home. Bad marriage."

That explains why sheís not wearing the rings I saw in her luggage.

"No kids?"

She shakes her head, stares at her food. Even with her head down, I can see sadness sweep across her face, quickly concealed. She wanted kids and he didnít, or maybe she tried to have them and couldnít. Thatís a common problem for spacers. Too much time in zero-gee. Too much exposure to stray radiation.

"Other family?"

"My brother lives on Vegus. I see him more now than when I was on short-hop."

"Easier to get shore leave on the Frontier if youíre doing deep jumps."

She nods and looks surprised.

"What? You think all I ever did is kill people?"

Color tinges her cheeks and she jabs an inoffensive piece of bacon with her fork. "What did you do before you went to prison?"

"None of your business." This conversationís beginning to annoy me. Sheís eaten enough to keep her going, so now she can shut up.

She pushes the bacon and remaining eggs around on her plate while I finish my meal in silence. When I rise to toss the dirty dishes into the recycler, I grunt at her, "You want some coffee?"

She nods but doesnít look up. Sheís upset at being slapped down when she thought she was building a rapport with me. Sorry, Carolyn, I had years of noise for noiseís sake in slam. I like silence, and weíre playing by my rules now.

I hand her a cup of coffee as I sit back down at the table. "After you drink that, weíre going to check on the course."

"I double-checked it yesterday," she says sullenly.

"Yeah, and I want to make sure weíre on it."

She looks up, anger flashing in those clear eyes. She doesnít like me questioning her competence. In a minute, sheíll realize why weíre going to check and then sheíll be hurt that I donít trust her instead of angry that I think she canít fly.

"Fine," she says, still annoyed. Then it dawns on her, and, sure enough, hurt wells in her eyes. "You donít trust me."

I have to chuckle at that. Does she really expect me to? How naive is she? "Fuck no."

"I-Iíve done everything you said!"

"Before or after you tried to gouge my eyes out with a fork?" I ask caustically.

Iím not really angry about that. She was just defending herself. She clearly feels strongly about the sanctity of her body, which makes her different than most of the women Iíve known. But then, Iíve mostly known cons, hookers and run-always for the last decade, so maybe my sampleís a little skewed.

She flushes. "I only did that because-becauseó"

"Because you thought I was going to rape you."

Her eyes flash up to mine. "Yes."

"Lemme tell you something about prison, Carolyn," I say, pausing to sip my coffee. Itís not great coffee, but after years of the mud-water they pass off as coffee in slam, it goes down smooth as silk. "Slam doesnít change who you are. It strips you down some. Refines you. But it doesnít alter whatís at bottom. Men who come out killers went in killers. Maybe they hadnít killed yet, but it was in them already. And men who come out rapists went in that way. Iíve done a lotta shit in my time, but you never heard of me rapiní anyone."

"Except that family on Novalis," she says.

Fuck.

That story spread fast. Novalis was where Johns caught up with me. I was on ice for the trip from Novalis to where we caught the Hunter-Grazner and started the next leg of the long trip back to slam, but it couldnít have been more than a few weeks of real-time. Could it? Iíve been running so long, I donít even know what year it is anymore.

Long enough, at any rate, for another false rumor about the notorious Richard B. Riddick to spread.

"That wasnít me," I growl, irritated by her willingness to believe anything of me. Even more irritated that Johns has pinned his sick shit on me.

"But they showed it on the news flashesó"

That enrages me. Those leeches violated Annie and the kids again, showing their bodies on the flashes, coupled with the name of the Butcher of Tiorine, just for a few ratings points. Carolynís face dissolves in a wash of red and before I know it, Iíve reached across the table, grabbed her by her arms and hauled her up out of her chair. She squeals and squirms but I clamp down, crushing her arms against her sides.

"I didnít hurt Anastasia or those kids," I roar. "They took me in. Iíd never have done anything to hurt them. Johnsó"

I release her, let her drop back into her chair. Sheís not going to believe me. No one will believe that the Great White Hunter raped and murdered a Colonist family just to bag himself an escaped convict, no matter how notorious. No one will believe that Johns could have subdued me solely by threatening them.

A twisted irony strikes me. Other cons might believe me, because theyíre the ones who understand host law. You never, ever bite the hand that feeds you when youíre on the run.

Annie and Ed took me in when I was feverish, dying, from an infected stab wound Iíd gotten from my last encounter with Johns. I gave him worse. Heíll be carrying around a piece of my shiv in his spine for the rest of his very short life. But he gave me something to remember, too. Without Ed and Annie, Johns would only have gotten to collect the "dead" part of my bounty.

But Carolyn, with her neat uniforms and years of flight school and failed marriage, Carolyn with her routine life and good job and carefully selected news feeding her just the titillating hints of the abnormality that is my life, Carolyn will never understand that I gave myself up rather than see Johns hurt Annie and those kids any further. Carolyn will never believe that I screamed through the bit and fought the chains to try to protect them when Johns had a second go at them. Carolyn expects me to be a monster.

And I can be one for her.

She stands still on the far side of the table, looking up at me. When she sees Iím not going to grab her again, she brushes at the front of her halter, then reaches for a napkin and mops up the table. I realize then that I grabbed her when she had a full cup of coffee in her hand, and it spilled all over her. No wonder she squirmed.

"You burned?" I ask quietly.

"No. It wasnít scalding. It just surprised me. Can I go change?"

The monster wouldnít let her change. The monster would make her wear the soaked undershirt while it dries cold and sticky against her breasts. The monster would leer at her nipples, make her fear that a blow-job wonít be enough after all.

Iím tempted. But then I wonder. Will she go change? Or will she run for the flight deck and try to crash us into the nearest star rather than face six weeks alone with the monster? A test. Yes, thatís better than a wet tee-shirt contest.

"Yeah. Go on."

She nods and tosses the wad of napkins to my side of the table, where her spilled coffee is spreading in long, milky fingers. She rights her chair before she walks out of the galley. Tidy woman, even in a wet shirt.

I donít need the napkins, as it turns out. A silver ball drops out of the ceiling and sprays foam over everything, then sucks it all up before disappearing back up into the ceiling.

Without that small task to occupy me, I itch to go out in the corridor. To see which road sheís taken, which choice sheís made. But I refuse to scratch that itch. I get myself another cup of coffee instead, sit, and itch some more while I drink it slowly.

Before I rise for the third cup, Carolyn returns. She looks composed. Sheís wearing a clean halter with the shorts. I control a smile. Gutsy after all; she took the road less traveled by.

"Do you want to go up to the flight deck now?"

"Yeah." I toss my cup and saucer into the recycler and follow her.

Weíre on course, as it turns out. She didnít fuck with me, at least not that way.

She watches me check the headings. That defiant spark spreads from her eyes to the rest of her face. Hmm.

"See?" she says finally.

Oh, she really needs to be taken down a notch. Before she thinks sheís got the upper hand.

"Yeah, good job," I say casually. "Still another thirty hours before the jump. So we got some time to kill."

I look her up and down and she blanches. Tch, tch, Carolyn, werenít you listening? No, thatís not it. She hears just fine when she wants to. She doesnít believe me.

Luckily for her, itís not what Iíve got in mind.

"Show me the rest of the ship."

She does. Thereís not a whole lot to it. The flight deckís up front. A central corridor runs back from the flight deck towards the engines. The cryo-lockers, passenger lounge, and storage spaces all open off the main corridor. Towards the tail of the ship are the crew areas where weíve been: the galley, the sleeping quarters, more storage spaces. She shows me the airlock to the engineering room and engines, but I have no interest in them right now.

I return to the rows of cryo-lockers and stare at Johns for a long time. His punishment could begin now. That would wipe the defiance off Carolynís face. It would also seal her conviction of my monstrosity. That fucker is going to taste some of his own medicine before he dies, and itís going to go down bitter as battery acid.

Finally, I turn away from the iced merc. Plenty of time after the first jump to give Johns what he deserves. I stretch, stiff from standing still for so long. What I need is a good work-out. To limber up my unused muscles. To work off some of this unspent rage.

"Címon." I snag Carolynís wrist and pull her towards the passenger lounge. Itís the largest open space on the ship, a carpeted room with a pseudo-wood bar and groups of beige seating clusters. Probably some ship-designerís idea of post-mod commercial chic. Fucking soulless. But itís also short work to shove the couches and chairs into untidy heaps against the walls and open a space on the floor. I smile at the thought of what the Hunter-Graznerís designer would think of my redecoration.

"You work out?" I ask after I push the last couch out of the way. Carolynís standing in the middle of the floor, watching me warily. Seeing her in her skivvies, the toned muscles of her arms and legs bared, Iím already sure she does.

"Uh, I run, if thatís what youíre asking."

That explains the musculature. "Yeah, good. Stretch out like youíre going to run."

She eyes me. "Thereís really not enough space here to run."

"Nope," I agree, but I donít enlighten her any further as I start to stretch myself. Ah, it feels good. My muscles unknot. A pounding in my balls, that I wasnít even really aware of until now, eases. I do knuckle push-ups until Iím sweating lightly, my muscles fluid and warm. Carolyn mimics me, only doing half-push-ups, but keeping up with me as I count upwards toward a hundred.

At a hundred I sit back on my haunches and smile at her. "Now we work out."

*

Uncertainty flickers through those expressive eyes. "I thought we were."

I shake my head. "That was just the warm-up."

She glances around. "But there arenít any weights or anything here."

I grin. "We donít need weights."

The uncertainty fades to annoyance as she realizes Iím baiting her. "Then how are we going to work out?" she asks, gritting her teeth.

"You had any training?"

"What do you mean? I told you Iíve had flight trainingó"

"Martial arts."

"Oh. No."

No wonder she came at me with a fork. "Youíll learn," I say. "Make a fist."

She does, the wrong way, tucking her thumb into her palm.

"Youíll break your knuckle if you connect like that." I correct her fist and step back a meter. "Fists up. Come at me."

"What?"

"Come at me. Címon, Carolyn. Hit me. First oneís free. I know you want to."

Does she ever. All the rage sheís had to suppress, all the fear sheís felt, focuses into two bright points in her eyes. She flies at me, moving faster than I thought she could. I let her have the first hit. Itís a good punch, right to my stomach. Sheís strong for an untrained woman. But I see it coming, tighten my gut and take the hit. The next one comes right behind it. She may not have had any martial arts training, but sheís hit a punching bag a time or two. Probably in gloves, if the way sheís holding her right fist, close in to her chest, is any indication. It hurts to really hit someone. Carolynís just learned the first lesson of street fighting.

I block her second punch with a sweep of my open palm, twisting her away from me and spinning to get behind her. She steps back and for a moment I think sheís going to disengage. But no. She pivots on her back heel, keeping the weight off her front foot in case I sweep it. Smart.

She comes at me again, her head tucked down between her shoulders like a boxer. That fear and anger have ignited in her eyes and sheís not about to let this chance go. It doesnít matter that her right knuckles hurt like hell now or that her hands will be black and blue tomorrow. Sheís going to hit and hit and hit until one of us goes down. I thought she might, given the chance. I block her punches, going through defensive forms one by one. Right to left, left to right. First my hands, then my feet. I never try to hit her back. This is purely exercise for me. For us both. Iím exercising my muscles and sheís exorcising her demons.

When Iím good and lathered and I can see her punches slowing, her arms sagging, the fury dying from her eyes, I catch her fists and hold them instead of pushing her away.

"Enough. Good work-out, Carolyn."

Her eyes flare again, briefly. "Thatís it? Youíre not going to hit me?"

I swallow a chuckle. She wouldnít appreciate me laughing at her right now, not when sheís tried so hard to hit me, to hurt me. And telling her the truth, that Iíve never hit a woman and donít intend to start with her, would put me at a disadvantage in dealing with her in the future. Doubt sheíd believe me anyway.

"No. This was just exercise. Remember?" I say instead. A gentle reminder that she shouldnít really be trying to TKO me. I am, after all, the one in control.

Her shoulders sag. "Yes."

"Good. Go get a shower. This tub got a relay viewer?"

I know a ship traveling at supercee canít pick up ordinary frequencies, or transmit on them. Iíve counted on that fact to make our detour to Kelsin undetected. But an FTL ship that I stowed-away on during one of my many escapes was able to snatch transmission bundles from relay beacons as the ship passed them by. Iím hoping the Hunter-Grazner has the same sort of thing. And Iím hoping itís a separate system from the transceiver I trashed. Otherwise this is going to be a long six weeks for me, as well as for Carolyn.

Carolyn nods. "On the flight deck."

Excellent. Entertainment. Not as fun as tormenting Carolyn, but I can see she can only take that in short doses. I canít spend the next twenty-eight hours teasing her. Sheíll snap.

*

I know heís watching me. Somehow. Maybe he runs up to the flight deck and watches on the intraship monitors. Or maybe he sneaks around in the shadows, trailing me. Heís so silent he might be able to do that without me hearing him. But he canít possibly be letting me walk around on my own for the second time in four hours.

I glance at the door into the engineering spaces before I turn into the crew quarters. God, itís tempting. I could lock myself in there. It would take a pneumatic drill to get through that airlock. But heíd just starve me out. There are no recyclers back there. I could live on the water out of the fuel tanks for a while. Two weeks, maybe three. Not long enough for the IAA to determine that weíve changed course and send a DSR ship to investigate. And Iíd be poisoning myself by slow degrees. Heavy waterís toxic in quantity.

I open the door into the crew quarters and head towards the Ďfresher. Better to seem beaten for now, to play along with him. Iím not sure I actually have anything to fear from him until we get to Kelsin. If he was going to rape me, heíd have done it by now. Maybe thatís what he was talking about with that line of b.s. about prison not changing a man. Of course, once we get to Kelsin, heíll try to kill me. At least he didnít try to convince me heís not a killer.

But maybe, just maybe, if I play along and he gives me these moments of freedom, maybe by the time we get there, Iíll have figured out a way to get him. I know he has weaknesses. Bright lights, for one. There have to be others, and if I can learn them all, maybe I can take him down, at least for long enough to wake the policeman or get out a distress call.

I shower with my back to the door, not wanting to know if he is watching me. He might not be ready to rape me, but he likes to fuck with my head. Having him watch me dress this morning was so unnerving that I nearly threw-up. But then he seemed to soften at breakfast, to open up. Until I asked that stupid question. What was I thinking? He lulled me into a false sense of approachability. But I should have known he wouldnít talk about his past.

He reveals it in bits and pieces even if he wonít talk about it. Heís ex-military. The way he spoke about shore leave was the biggest tip-off. My Space Marine uncle talked the same way. There are other clues, too. The martial arts moves. Having me punch at him, like he was training a new recruit. Maybe even his knowledge of ships, although he could have picked that up on the run. What I donít understand is how an ex-Marine, or whatever he is, ended up as Richard B. Riddick, infamous mass murderer.

Nor do I understand why Richard B. Riddick, infamous mass murderer, would try to defend his undisclosed past. I donít know what happened on Novalis, but Riddick didnít rape and murder that family. No matter what the news flashes said. He was so furious at the accusation, I thought he was going to kill me. But all he did was shake me and make me spill my coffee. I donít know what the truth is there, and Riddickís made it clear that heís not going to tell me, but if I watch him, if I listen, maybe heíll reveal more of those bits and pieces for me to put together.

I stand under the hot spray for a long time, letting it soothe the sore muscles of my shoulders and back, ease the ache in my wrists and knuckles. God, I havenít worked out like that in a very long time. Iíve never hit anything other than a mannequin in self-defense class. I brace my hands against the shower stall and stretch up onto my toes, feeling the pull in my hamstrings. Iím sore now and Iím going to be sorer tomorrow. But Iíd do it again. It was so satisfying to swing at him, even if he only let me connect once.

A sound snaps my head up. But itís just a ship-noise. New crew like Owens jump at every sound for a while. Plaz and polycarbon rubbing against each other, the engine cleaning cycle turning over, recyclers bubbling, even hot components ticking. They all make noise. New crew take a while to get used to that fact of ship-life. Iíve been on ships for most of my life, long before I became a pilot. Their noises are familiar. Usually I find them comforting.

I roll my shoulders, feeling the tense muscles pop. The only reason Iím so damned jumpy now is because of that shadow, real or imagined, lurking in the doorway and watching me shower.

I finally switch off the spray and turn to face whateverís there. The cabinís lights are dimmed, as heís insisted, and for a moment my eyes search the shadows around the door, thinking Iíve seen movement, the slide of faint light over caramel-colored skin. But thereís nothing. Nothing near the doorway. Nothing in the cabin beyond when I wrap myself in a towel and step through to look. Damn, heís making me crazy. Itís easier just to be in the room with him, to suffer his silences and his mind-games, than to be alone and jumping at every shadow.

I pull on fresh underwear quickly and stuff the two dirty sets into the tiny wall valet. I only have four changes of underwear with me; better try to keep the ones Iím not actually wearing clean.

Then I go find him.

Heís sitting in the co-pilotís chair, watching news flashes on the big central viewer. Damn, he figured that out fast. It took me an hour to puzzle out the relay viewer system, and I had training on a similar model. Heís smart. Facile with machines. I canít underestimate him.

"When was it?" he grunts as I ease myself into the chair beside him.

"When was what?"

He glances at me, a slippery silver glare. "The flash about Novalis."

"Oh. About two weeks before we left Finvey."

He glances at a chrono display on the control board. "Fifteen weeks ago?"

I nod.

He returns his attention to the flashes. "Theseíre too recent. The oldestís about eleven weeks ago."

I glance up at the screen, mildly curious to see whatís been going on in the universe while Iíve been asleep. The viewer shows hollow-eyed refugees from the famine on Earth. Camouflaged soldiers holding the line against rioters. Suited men talking about technological advances in resource distribution that sound good, but probably wonít reach those poor bloated refugee children in time. Tanned, polished women in tight clothes touting the latest vacation package, latest anti-radiation, anti-fat, virility supplement, latest officially-sanctioned recreational drug of choice.

It doesnít look like anythingís changed while Iíve been down.

I turn my attention back to Riddick.

"Anything interesting?"

He nods but doesnít take his eyes off the viewer. "Fresh foodíll be scarce beyond the Ten-Year Border for a while. Rioting might spread to the Deep Frontier. Either way, plenty of black market ships running back and forth over the Border for the next coupla months."

How does he get all of that out of a handful of weeks-old flashes?

"And?"

"Newruba is the place to go for a cancer-free tan." He smiles briefly, a real smile, not that cruel curving he does when heís taunting me. I laugh a little, not because what heís said is so funny, but because Iím desperate to encourage these small signs of humanity.

He turns his head and pins me with those silvery eyes. "What díyou want, Carolyn?"

I start. Is he angry with me? What have I done? His moods are as mercurial as his eyes.

"N-nothing." I bite my lips, hating the way he can make me stammer. I feel like a stuttering child again, all the years of speech therapy deserting me in a hot rush, like pee trickling down my leg. "I, uh, I finished my shower and I didnít know what youíd want me to do next, so I came to find you."

"Did you?" Heís amused again, but this amusement is cruel. The wintry smile I dread curves across his lips. "How very . . . obedient of you."

I shiver and shrink down in the flight chair. I hate him like this. Hate his amusement at the expense of my dignity. Hate the way he grinds humiliation into me with just a few words, with just that cruel smirk.

"Iíll leave you alone."

"Will you now? I donít think so. Come here."

Iíve half-risen from my chair, not really knowing where Iím going, or what Iím going to do. I just want to get out of his way before he directs that cruel amusement at me, invents some further torment. His order freezes me, nearly topples me over the armrest of my chair. I grip it with both hands, white-knuckled.

"Wha-what doó"

"I said, come here."

The menace is clear in his voice now. But the only reason heíd want me to come to him is because he wants the blow-job I promised him. The thought of it makes my stomach churn, squirts bile into my throat. I glance around crazily, seeking some avenue of escape.

"Carolyn."

Dear God, he can turn my name into a sound so threatening it makes my hair stand on end. I relinquish my death-grip on the chair reluctantly and take a shuffling step towards him. The small floor-space between his feet seems to loom large, taunting me with the image of me kneeling there, forcing my mouth open to accept whatever he rams into it.

He sits forward in the flight chair and taps the control panel in the arm. The padded back reclines flat and he gestures over his shoulder.

"Sit there."

Behind him? How am I going to do what he wants if Iím behind him? The image of me kneeling in front of him is swiftly replaced with one of him crouched over me on all fours as I lie on the flight chair. Of him lowering his massive, dangling parts toward my mouth. I shudder and nearly fall.

"You gotta start eating more, Carolyn. Fainting while youíre piloting a jumpíll make this a real short trip."

I nod but I have no idea what heís saying. With each movement an effort of will, a struggle against my screaming urge to bolt, I climb into the flight chair and sit behind him.

"If youíre gonna be in here while Iím tryiní to watch the news, make yourself useful. Rub my back."

Oh. Blood rushes to my face. Relief makes me more light-headed than my earlier, crazed imaginings.

I touch him tentatively. I havenít rubbed a manís back in years. But Iíve had plenty of massages. I treat myself to one whenever Iím on leave. I enjoy having my back rubbed so much I almost wish it was the other way around, except then heíd have his hands on me and Iím not sure I could stand that.

I rub his back the way the masseuses rub mine. Starting up at the base of his shaved skull. Working my thumbs down the thick muscles of his neck. I have to shift up onto my knees to reach him. He must be a half-meter taller than I am. Even though his height is mostly in his long legs, itís still a stretch for me to reach his neck when Iím sitting behind him.

I use my knuckles on the huge muscles of his shoulders and he grunts. I wish I had a little oil to do this right. But heís still sweating slightly from our sparring, so thereís not much uncomfortable friction. I knead the long sweep of sinew over each shoulder-blade, concentrating on the knots under my fingers. He breathes heavily, exhaling through his nose, as I work. Occasionally he makes a low grumbling noise deep in his massive chest as I knead a stubborn knot.

He groans when I reach the small of his back.

"Hang on," he says. He shifts, moving forward onto his hands and sliding his legs back. He settles beside me, so that heís lying face-down, on his stomach, and now Iím stuck, crouched on one arm of the chair.

"Riddick, I canít reach like this."

"Sit on my legs."

I look at the strong thighs extending from the bottoms of his borrowed briefs. What would it be like to straddle them? To feel his warm skin between my thighs?

I shake my head. "I donít think so."

"Sit wherever the fuck you want, Carolyn," he growls. Heís losing patience now. Not good.

I settle carefully onto his thighs. He doesnít even register my weight as I sink onto him. It is a good position, I have to admit. I can reach his whole back from here. I have leverage to bear down on the stubborn spots. I lean forward and feel him press against me, just as I imagined. His body is hard, hot, between my legs. Itís a startlingly intimate feeling, given that heís not even really touching me.

"Carolyn," he says. A warning. I slide my hands over his lower back, working the taut muscles there with my thumbs. The movement rocks me forward, pressing his thighs right against my pelvic girdle. I close my eyes for a moment. Itís hard to concentrate on anything but the warmth and firmness of him pushing up against me.

I shake myself and begin rubbing his back again. Hard, slow strokes to smooth the muscle fibers back together, to push out the accumulated toxins. He makes that grumbling rumble deep in his chest again, and I can feel it vibrate all the way up through my belly.

I stop at the top edge of his briefs, running my thumbs along that edge before moving upward again. He reaches back and pushes the briefs down over his buttocks.

"Sciatica."

Sciatica? I glare at his profile. If he has sciatica Iíll eat his shorts.

"Címon, Carolyn. Donít stop."

I grudgingly shift my hands down onto the rise of his buttocks. Iíve seen him naked, but I havenít really spent much time appreciating his body. As I look down at him now, focusing on his firm buttocks, the smooth, dark honey skin stretched taut over all that muscle, I have to admit that he has an impressive body.

"I suppose you work out a lot."

"Thought you were going to rub, not talk."

"Sorry." But Iím not sorry. He didnít snap at me that time. Didnít growl like some hunting cat. He sounded almost human.

I push my thumbs deep into his buttocks, working down the sciatic nerve. He flinches, groans. Maybe he really does have a bad back.

"Not much else to do in slam," he says. It takes me a moment to connect what heís saying to my earlier question. I smile at the back of his head. Much closer to human.

"Do they let you read?"

"Yeah. Selected materials. Nothing recent. Nothing political. Lotta old Westerns for some fucking reason. Like they donít give a man ideas about freedom. Mmm, Carolyn, loweró"

I push his briefs down a little further, shift back a few centimeters, and rub my thumbs down into the top of his thigh.

"Sleep. Read. Jack off. Try to survive. Not a lot else to do."

I donít really understand what heís saying. His imprisonment is such a foreign experience to me that I canít even begin to imagine it. But it doesnít matter. I donít need to understand what heís been through. I just want him to tell me about his life, his past. To open up to me. To accept me as a person. Someone to talk to instead of something to bark orders at. Because maybe, just maybe, if he sees me as a person, he wonít be able to cut me up later.

I finish with his sciatic nerve and begin working back up. The muscles under my hands are pliant now. Not soft. Maybe nothing about Riddick is ever soft. But heís relaxed. I move my hands up over his ribs, begin stroking his shoulders. Itís a stretch, so I scoot up onto his buttocks. He wiggles them under me and I grab his shoulders to stay upright. Not because his motion has nearly unseated me, but because of the warmth that shoots up into my belly from the rubbing of his flesh against mine.

I whip my thumbs over his shoulders. "Youíre done." I have to get off him, get away from him. This isnít right. I donít want to feel anything but fear around him.

"Neck still aches," he grumbles.

Men. Theyíre all such infants. Evidently mass murderers are no exception to that universal rule.

I reach up and rub his neck. Itís sweaty and my thumbs glide easily over the smooth skin. I have to admit that there are still a few kinks in his neck. I settle back onto him, onto that hard roundness. Warmth kindles in my stomach again, spreading with each beat of my blood. My strokes over his skin slow, become languorous, as that drowsy warmth spreads through me.

"Lie down," he says.

I stiffen. I should have known.

"Lie down on my back."

"W-why?"

"íCause I told you to, Carolyn."

I hate him. I hate the way he orders me around without ever explaining himself. I hate the way he never spares a thought or a word for my pride.

I lie against him angrily, awkwardly, holding myself as rigid as possible. But the earlier work-out and the lingering effects of cryo-sleep work against me. My muscles begin to shake; I canít remain rigid. I have to relax against him. He doesnít move under me. Slowly I find a comfortable position, with my face between his shoulder-blades, my breasts pressed into the curve of his back, my belly and hips arched over his buttocks. My hands flutter awkwardly, until they settle naturally on his bent arms.

"Stop twitching around, Carolyn," he says, a low rumble that vibrates through me. I try to remain still. As I lie on him, warmth spreads through me again, radiating in waves from his skin and up from my belly, pressed against his buttocks. I lie there for as long as I can, until the warmth becomes unbearable.

"Riddick," I finally whisper.

He doesnít respond. Iím tempted to poke him. Instead I listen to his deep, even breathing. Could he be asleep? I listen for what feels like minutes. He is. How could he fall asleep with me on top of him like this?

I want to slide off him, to escape the warmth of his body and the strange sensations it spreads through me. But if I move it will wake him up.

Thatís when I realize why he chose this position. I thought he was fucking with me, that he knew about the strange heat in my blood and was trying to provoke me. But he just wanted to make sure I didnít go anywhere while he was asleep.

I should be annoyed by his lack of trust, but Iím not. It makes sense. I suppose Iíd do the same thing in his place.

My hands canít seem to stay still. I stroke the curves of his arms. My fingertips trail over the silky-soft skin of his underarms, the hard edges of his elbows. Soothed by the feeling of him, warm and human, under my hands, by the heat of his body that was anathema when he was awake, I close my eyes.

*

A klaxon snaps me out of a deep sleep, the kind of sleep you never get in slam. If the non-stop noise doesnít make you a light sleeper, the constant threat of danger will.

I lift my head, feeling a weight between my shoulders. Carolynís still asleep on my back. I grin, but my grin fades as I look up at the viewer above us. The words "Proximity Alert" display across the viewer in huge block letters.

"Carolyn," I say.

"Mnuh?"

"Carolyn, wake up."

She stirs sleepily, her breasts shifting across my back, her tummy sliding against my ass. If it wasnít for the words blinking above me, Iíd really be enjoying this.

"Carolyn, wake up. We got a problem."

"Uhn." She climbs off my back and sits on the reclined chair, rubbing her eyes like a child.

I rise onto my forearms, feeling a twinge of stiffness from lying in one position with Carolynís weight on me for so long. But she did a good job on my back. Itís nice and loose.

"Holy shit." She rises off the back of my chair and slides into her own. Her eyes are focused now, her face intent. I bring my chair up and sit forward.

"Thatís a liner. Strap in." She sounds grim.

"How fucked are we?"

"I donít know yet."

The viewer clears and the Doppler-shifted streaks that are the stars at supercee fill the screen. The blackness of space ripples oddly ahead of us.

"What the hell is that?"

"The quantum wake off the liner in front of us." Carolynís tapping in commands now. Codes scroll down the edges of the viewer and a pair of handles rise out of the arms of her chair.

"Strap in. Iím going to have to do this manually. It could get bumpy."

I find the chairís harness and adjust it until it fits across my chest. Sheís not kidding about the bumps. The first hits before Iíve got the harness on and nearly throws me out of my chair. We ride out the next few minutes of turbulence in silence. The bumps finally trail off, but the ripples still stream down each side of the viewer in front of us. It looks like weíre riding the other shipís wake.

"Whatíre you doing?"

"Riding it in to the jump point."

"Why not just cross the wake and wait for it to pass?"

She shoots me a dark glance. "Why donít you just trust me for once?"

I cross my arms over my chest. "Against my nature."

"Fine. If weíd done this the normal way, filed a flight plan with the IAA and confirmed the jump, Iíd have known about the liner and I could get out of its way. But as it is, I donít know whatís coming in on either side of me. I could get out of its wake only to get broadsided by another ship, or caught in another wake. Drafting the liner is the safest way. And, youíll be happy to know, itís almost impossible to detect another ship riding a wake this big. So nobody will even know weíre here. Happy?"

"Yeah," I say grudgingly.

"Then settle in. Iím going to have to fly her in manually to keep her centered in the wake. Itís eleven hours to the jump point. Long day ahead."

*

Twelve hours later she rises out of her chair. The high, sweet scent of ketones rises with her. Sheís been running on adrenaline for hours. Her hand shakes as she grips the arm of her flight chair.

I vault out of my seat and catch her as she falls.

She pushes at my chest. "Iím okay."

I have to grin. Sheís been holding on by her fingernails for the last hour, desperately pushing herself to stay focused, to stay sharp, as we skimmed the corona of the Nectar pulsar and were spit out the other side at a hundred times the speed of light.

"Sure you are." I release her.

She takes two steps, staggers and goes down.

I scoop her up, holding her to my chest despite her muffled protest. Sheís done good. Least I can do is carry her to bed.

Sheís half-asleep by the time I settle her in the bed. She murmurs something when I lie down beside her and pull up the covers. It sounds like, "Stay on your side." Iím glad sheís asleep and canít see my grin.

I sink onto my back and slide my arms behind my head. Iím tired, but not nearly as exhausted as Carolyn. All I did was bring her coffee and help her hold the ship steady at a few critical moments. I stare up at the darkness above the bed, but see instead the fresh memory of the last twelve hours. Carolynís tense, intent little face as she rode the huge space-linerís wake. She really did do good.

Most of the time it was a smooth ride. She kept us just far enough back to avoid proximity alarms on either ship, but close enough that no other ship or monitoring station would pick us up. She never relaxed for a moment, making constant tiny adjustments to keep us centered in the wake.

She slung us into the jump fearlessly, right behind the liner. We slid across the gravity well of the pulsar like butter across a hot griddle. Plasma cocooned the ship, painted psychedelic patterns across the walls of the flight deck. I stared at them until they began to make a kind of twisted sense. But Carolyn never took her eyes off the viewer. She held us tight to the inner rim of the well, picking up the maximum push possible from the starís crushing gravity. It flung us out on the other side so fast we blew past the liner. It was only when she was absolutely sure we were on course for Brevin that she relaxed. Iíve seen trained Rangers who couldnít handle that kind of pressure.

I reach across and stroke her hair with my fingertips.

*

When I wake, Carolynís wrapped around me again. Her face is buried in my chest; her soft headís tucked under my chin. She has one arm around my neck, the other across my ribs. Her breasts and belly are pressed tight against me. But itís lower down thatís the problem. Sheís got one thigh slung over my hip, her calf curled tight across my ass. Sheís clamped us together with her leg, welding her groin to mine. The layers separating us are so thin that my cock is pressed between the open lips of her body. Iíve come in my sleep, or maybe sheís the one having wet dreams. I canít tell. All I know is that the bed stinks of sex and Iím soaked from hilt to tip.

She undulates against me in her sleep, and itís all I can do not to tear away the flimsy cloth separating us and ram into her. It doesnít help that this is one of my favorite fuck-positions, particularly with a small woman like Carolyn. Thereís nothing better than lying face to face with a woman and rocking her back and forth on my cock. Makes for a slow, deep fuck. Itís the way Iím going to fuck Carolyn the first time, if she ever relaxes enough to let me.

My hands are already on her ass, kneading those soft globes, ready to move her to my rhythm. But I canít. If she wakes to this, sheíll break. Sheís so terrified of rape. Waking to me fucking her, without any memory of instigating it, will convince her Iíve forced her, no matter what I say.

As frustrating as it is, I canít take advantage of this situation. I know she didnít do this deliberately. She was married. Sheís used to sleeping with her husband. Lucky fuck. Itís not her fault that in her dreams sheís still in bed with him.

I release her by slow degrees, to avoid waking her. When Iíve disentangled myself, I roll out of bed and walk to the Ďfresher. Iíve got to do something about my balls before they explode.

I peel off the wet briefs and let them drop to the floor as I stand over the commode. A couple of strokes get me going. I let my mind wander back to the bed, imagining that Iíd never left it. Imagining that Carolyn had opened her eyes and instead of screaming and trying to scramble away, pressed closer, wriggling out of those little shorts and pulling me inside her. Imagining that itís Carolynís tight heat around my cock instead of my hand. I brace myself against the wall above the commode and begin pumping, putting my hips and ass into it, imagining thrusting into Carolyn as she writhes and moans against me.

Then I hear her voice, but itís not raised in ecstasy.

"Riddick, are youó"

"Get the fuck out."

"Oh! I-I . . . sorry!"

The door to the fresher snicks shut.

Fuck.

I look down at my dick, gone limp in my hand. Iíve got nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone jerks off, even Carolyn of the pristine white ass. She was just doing it, rubbing up against me in her sleep. Thinking of that makes my cock stir, and I finish off with a few fast strokes. My orgasmís a relief, but itís not the tsunami come that Iíd have had if she hadnít interrupted me. She owes me for that.

Sheís standing on the far side of the bed, her arms wrapped around herself, when I walk back into the sleeping quarters. Her eyes flick up and down me. Sheís seen me naked before, but itís different now, isnít it, Carolyn? The lingering sense of skin on skin. My cock still at half-mast, still glistening with our shared fluids. Fluids that have left a dark triangle at the crotch of her shorts.

I lean against the door to the Ďfresher and stare back at her.

She bites at her full lips. "Riddick, Iím really sorry. I wouldnít have walked in except I-I-I thought I heard you calling my name."

Entirely possible. I was fantasizing about fucking her.

"Okay, Carolyn."

"Were you-were youó"

"Jacking off?"

She flushes all the way down to the tops of her breasts. "N-no, I could see . . . were you calling me?"

"Not deliberately."

She rubs her hand over her eyes. "Iím really sorry, Riddick."

I shrug. "Forget it. You hungry?"

She nods.

*

After the jump, our days settle into a pattern. We eat at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. ship-time. Iím confident thatís when he had to eat in prison. I wonder if he knows how much of the institution heís internalized. In between, we work out at least once, sometimes twice a day. I still havenít landed a punch other than the one he allows me at the beginning of each session. But sometimes when I have a rhythm going, when Iím really swinging hard, I think I might be close to breaking through the shield of his sweeping hands and feet.

He spends a lot of time standing in front of the cryo-locker of the policeman Johns. He walks away more stoic-faced than ever, and Iíve learned to recognize that as the sign of a really foul mood. I avoid him during those times, hiding on the flight deck and watching the news flashes or using grooming as an excuse. Iíve never taken so many showers in my life. From the sardonic tilt of his lips, I know he knows Iím dissembling. But he lets me, and as far as I can tell, he doesnít follow me or watch me in the shower.

Iíve stopped jumping at every small noise.

Heís also spent a good deal of time going through the passengersí luggage. Thereís a lot of it in the storage spaces. Some of the geese are headed beyond New Mecca, into the Deep Frontier. Like their ancestors, theyíve brought the whole wagon train with them. Riddick wonít show me what heís taken out of the passengersí luggage, but his selection of briefs seems to have expanded. Heís found a tight white silk pair with little red lips all over. I hate them. They remind me of the blow-job I owe him. Wearing them amuses him endlessly. But on the bright side, heís brought me a portable viewer with a good selection of pre-programmed vids to keep me entertained while he watches the news flashes, or glares at Johns.

Then there are the mornings. No matter how much distance Iíve put between us when we go to bed (and hearing me scoot to the edge of my side of the bed often fills the darkened room with Riddickís evil chuckle), we donít wake up that way. On the mornings I wake up first, I find myself wrapped around Riddick. Often in a position so indecent it makes me blush even though heís still asleep. Yesterday morning I woke up on top of him, dry humping him through my shorts. Whatís wrong with me? I havenít wanted to even be near a man in years. Now I start each day in a state of arousal. Even after we rise, small things Ė bumping his arm with my breast, the brush of my underwear against my pubic hair Ė flush me with heat.

And my dreams. Dear God.

On the mornings like today, when Riddick wakes up first, I wake a few minutes later, shivering with the loss of his body heat, hearing his labored breathing in the Ďfresher. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep the first couple of times, but itís impossible. My mind fills with images of what heís doing. I keep imagining what . . . it . . . looks like.

Iíve seen him naked many times, every day practically. I try not to stare at his body, but itís difficult. His shoulders in particular. Theyíre almost sculptural in their perfection. And of course I know what his thing looks like. Thick. Faintly purple. Uncircumcised. But Iíve never seen it, well, angry. My own curiosity embarrasses me. Why should I be interested in what Riddickís dick looks like erect? But I am.

He never shuts the Ďfresher door. Even when heís masturbating heís on guard, alert. But I take it as an invitation to scoot to the bottom of the bed and peer into the Ďfresher. He stands with his back to me. I canít see his penis, engulfed by his huge hand. But I can watch what he does. He uses long, slow strokes, his shoulder flexing with each one, not the quick jerks I expected. And he takes a surprisingly long time, working himself slowly up to an orgasm that leaves him gasping, bracing himself against the wall of the Ďfresher. He stands with his legs apart and when he comes, I see him spray into the commode. It looks like gallons. Surely Neils never came that much.

Sometimes he turns and walks back into the bedroom after heís done, so I have to scramble up and out of the bed quickly. Iím not sure what heíd do if he caught me watching him. More often, he masturbates again. Iíve never seen a man climax as often as Riddick does. Neils always fell asleep right after he came. Then again, Iíve only known three men in the biblical sense, so maybe thatís too restricted a universe.

I know more about Riddickís sexual life than I ever knew about my husbandís. I know that waking up with me rubbing against him turns Riddick on. To be fair, I suppose any physical contact would be arousing if youíve been deprived of it for as long as he has. Even for as long as I have . . .

I know he fantasizes about sex with me. I hear him whispering my name when heís masturbating. And I canít control the curiosity it arouses in me. What is he thinking? Whatís happening on the viewscreen of his mind? Sex, of course . . . but, what exactly? What does he think about when he touches himself and says my name? Iím desperate to know, but Iím also terrified of what heíll say.

What I donít know, what I donít understand, is why he hasnít forced himself on me. Heís in control; thereís little doubt about that. Thereís nothing I could do if he forced me. He proves every day when we spar that heís stronger and faster than I am. I know he wants sex, craves it maybe. But other than teasing me, he hasnít done anything to initiate it. He hasnít even mentioned the blow-job I owe him in the days since the Nectar jump. I really donít understand him.

The harsh breathing in the bathroom approaches a second climax. I watch as he pours himself into the commode. He pauses for a minute, and then starts again. Dear God, is he going to do it a third time this morning?

*

I can feel the heat of Carolynís gaze on the back of my neck this morning as I jack off. I slow down my strokes, playing them out for her, imagining its her wet little mouth working up and down my cock instead of my hand. These fantasies of her are the best Iíve had in years. I come, working my fingers down my cock, pushing out the last few drops. I rest my head against my hand, braced against the wall above the commode. My forehead throbs against the back of my hand. I still feel as hot as when I woke up, my cock pushed tight between the cheeks of Carolynís ass. My balls are still throbbing.

I wrap my hand around the base of my cock and start pumping again. Maybe a third orgasm will relieve the incessant pounding in my nuts. And itíll impress the hell out of Carolyn.

I know she watches me. Sheís been watching practically every morning since that first time when she caught me jerking off. Her voyeurism doubles my enjoyment. Iíve had some rich fantasies about her rising off the bed, walking up behind me and replacing my hand with hers. Those fantasies usually end with me banging her against the wall above the commode, holding her slender legs in the crooks of my elbows as I pound into her. Thatís a position Iíve always wanted to try. And sheís the perfect size for it, small and light and very fuckable. But today my mind slides to thoughts of her round white ass in my hands, pressing back against my pelvis as I ride her.

I groan her name as I envision that sweet ass in my hands. I often do. The first few times she watched me, I kept silent, afraid of spooking her. But then I let her name slip once and heard her breathing quicken, smelled the faint salty musk of her arousal. Now I do it routinely, just to hear her breathing change, smell her excitement. It turns me on almost as much as imagining fucking her.

This morning I canít get the sight and feel of that round ass out of my head. Waking up this morning with it pressed into my groin for what feels like the hundredth time has sent me into a fever. I know every contour of her ass. I know how it feels in my hands, against my cock. So I imagine taking her from behind. I donít think sheíd actually ever let me do her doggy-style. Too submissive for her. But the fantasy of making her come in that position, of holding her hips and balling her that way, slamming my pelvis against her ass, until she bucks and screams and begs, sends me over the edge.

I brace myself against the wall until Iím not seeing spots from coming so often. Then I wash my hand and turn into the bedroom.

Carolynís fussing with the wall valet, the way she often is when I finish jerking off. I like this game she plays, pretending she just woke up and wasnít watching me. The hectic color in her cheeks would put the lie to that one, even if I hadnít felt her eyes glued to my ass for the last forty minutes.

I rummage for a fresh set of briefs in the dresser Iíve appropriated. My favorites, the ones with the red lips on them Ė the ones that make Carolyn blush every time I pull them on Ė need a wash, so I pull out some dark fabric ones instead. Then I look down at my cock. Despite the long work out, itís still hard, still red and swollen. What the hell? Maybe itís the sight of Carolyn, standing with her back to me, her fine round ass filling out those little boy shorts. Or maybe itís this strange feverish heat in my blood that all that jacking off hasnít diminished.

I sit down on the edge of the bed. My vision blurs into a red and purple smear.

"Riddick?" I hear Carolyn say. Her voice sounds distant. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah."

"Are you ready for breakfast?"

I roll my shoulders against the ache tightening my back. "In a minute." I lie back onto the bed. The smell of sex billows up around me. The sheets under my back feel clammy. I shiver. Am I lying on the wet spot? Did I fuck Carolyn after all?

"Riddick?" Her voice rings in my ears, then fades as grayness closes in.

*

Iíve never known him to go back to bed once heís gotten up. Heís so institutionalized that he keeps to his routine even though thereís no need here. He could sleep all day if he wanted. Iím certainly not going to stop him. But he keeps to a strict routine. Up at 5 a.m. central time, bed by 10 p.m. Heís never varied from the routine in the last three and a half weeks. Until today, when at 5:43 a.m., according to the clock implanted in my retina, he flops back onto the bed.

I circle the bed and stand to one side, where his legs overhang the mattress. And there I finally get a good look at him. His briefs are still around his ankles. His penis rises from that sculpted body. Itís so long it shadows his navel. So thick I couldnít close my hand around it. Pumped full, itís a lustrous purple color that draws the eye. I canít help but stare at him for several seconds.

Then it spurts a thick pinkish fluid all over his stomach. Disgusting.

Iíve seen him come many times. His ejaculate is an opaque white, even in the low emergency light. This isnít right. He groans, tosses his head. I bend over him and touch his chest for reassurance. My fingers come away sticky. Pink.

I run for the crew storage areas.

The autodoc powers up slowly. I chew on my thumbnails as I wait for it. A terrible sense of foreboding tightens my stomach. Iíve never seen Riddick anything but one hundred percent alert, aware. The idea that heís human, fallible, makes me queasy, even though itís what Iíve hoped for for weeks.

Even before the autodocís monitor glows green, I drag it to the sleeping quarters and hook it up over the bed. It flicks an infrared beam over Riddick, but heís in the wrong position, sprawled sideways across the edge of the bed. I know it will blink Ďinconclusiveí even before the message displays.

I try to shove Riddick up onto the bed. Dear God, heís heavy. Itís all I can do to get his legs on the bed and roll him onto his side. I hope it will be enough.

The red beam flicks down his long body again. This time the autodoc cycles instead of immediately displaying a message. I hover over Riddick, rubbing his bare back when he begins shivering.

ĎSevere cryocitosisí displays across the autodocís monitor.

Cryo-sickness. Itís taken a long time to manifest. And it can be fatal.

The autodocís display blinks.

Treat? it asks me over and over.

I could hit no, and heíd probably die in less than a day. I could change the course headings for the nearest station, climb in my cryo-tube and leave him. I wouldnít have to watch him die. I wouldnít even have to know one way or the other. By the time I woke, the Company would have taken care of whatever was left of him.

I stare at the display for a long time before I tap the screen.

The autodoc lowers a thin arm to Riddickís huge shoulder and injects him with something that should help with the extreme fluctuations in his core temperature. I gather blankets from the storage lockers and other bed to pile on him. Riddickís skin is clammy, which means heís in a low. His temp will spike over the next forty-eight hours as his body expels the cryo-drugs, then drop dangerously until his hypothalamus starts regulating his body temperature again. If Iím remembering my training correctly.

For the next thirty hours, all I do is mop and hold him. When Iím lucky, he vomits in the pail Iíve found. When Iím not so lucky, he vomits on the bed, on the floor, on me. The shipís automaid gives up after twelve hours. Iím lucky to have the wall valet, which spits out fresh sheets almost as fast as Riddick soils them. The sickly smell of the cryo-drugs stops nauseating me after a while. The feeling of Riddick sweating them out all over my skin stops making me shiver. I risk a shower during a period when his temperature spikes and he stops vomiting. But I return to find him convulsing. His core temperature has dropped below ninety degrees. I pile the blankets back on him, but itís not enough. Stripping to the skin, I climb on top of him. His convulsions wear down to faint shivers and I fall asleep on top of him, exhausted, covered in sweat and the pearl-pink pus heís excreting from every pore.

When I wake the autodoc tells me that heís critically dehydrated, and for the next eight hours I drip water into his mouth by the teaspoonful between rounds of mopping. It gives me more to mop, but at least it quiets the autodoc.

When the autodoc tells me heís stable, I risk another shower and stumble to the flight deck to check on our status. When Riddick went down, we were on course and eight days from Terra Unnova, the water world Iíve selected as a refueling site. Now, weíre still on course, and five days out.

I tap up the link from the autodoc and confirm that Riddickís still stable. Then I bring up the shipís in-flight recorder. Somethingís been bothering me since the autodocís diagnosis. Something I should have wondered about weeks ago, but never did.

I dial back through the days and weeks to the pre-flight. I watch the policeman bring Riddick aboard, parade him in the blindfold and bit and chains in front of Captain Mitchell and Owens like a circus freak. Where was I?

I flick the display, quarter it, and see myself alone on the flight deck, running through the pre-flight protocols. Yes, I remember now. Pete disappeared for a half-hour. Unusual for pre-flight, but I assumed he was showing Owens something. And he was, as it happened, just not what I thought.

The quartered display continues to show its schizophrenic montage. The passengers putting on their sleeping robes and monitoring patches in the lounge. In the corridor, the policeman taunting Riddick with a shock baton while Captain Mitchell and Owens watch with expressions of obscene interest. Riddick stands impassive, unmoving, even when the batonís glowing tip leaves red weals on his dusky skin. On the flight deck, my own image going through the pre-flight by the numbers. How could I have been so oblivious to what was happening just down the hall?

The policeman herds Riddick into the secure pod. I watch intently. What went wrong? How did Riddick escape? I assumed heíd never gone into cryo-sleep. That heíd been loose during the entire trip and only decided to wake me up when he wanted to change our course. But now I realize I was wrong. He didnít know the ship. He hadnít been sleeping in the crew quarters or on the flight deck. Heíd only just killed the Captain and Owens when he woke me. He must have been awake for weeks in his pod, ingesting all those cryo-drugs, while the rest of us slept. Otherwise he wouldnít have cryo-sickness.

Guilt curdles my stomach. The geese, all of them, even Riddick, are the crewís responsibility. We left Riddick awake in stasis for weeks. Itís amazing heís sane. People have developed disassociative psychosis when the cryo-systems failed and they were trapped for more than a few hours in their pods. Stasis is like sensory deprivation. It must have been more so for Riddick with the blindfold on. How could we have left him like that? What happened to the fail-safes? An alarm should have gone off when Riddickís EEG still registered waking brain activity after an hour on the cryo-drugs. Another alarm should have alerted us when his pod opened. What went wrong?

I see nothing out of the ordinary as the policeman secures Riddick in his pod. After the policeman leaves him, Riddick shifts uncomfortably against his bonds. He flexes his jaw against the bit. I rub the corners of my own mouth sympathetically. The bit looks painful. Why did the policeman leave the bit in after locking Riddick down? It seems pointlessly cruel.

On the viewer, Riddick tests the right wrist rope, tests it again. I remember that the policeman was unhappy about having to use the ropes. Heíd wanted chains around Riddickís wrists. But the manacles interfered with the cryo connections, so he had to make do with the ropes. Was it the ropes that failed to hold Riddick? Was that how he escaped?

Riddick bows his head and goes perfectly still. I recognize that posture. Iíve seen it many times when weíve sparred, when he was waiting for me to come at him. Heís told me itís a moment of stillness. Of waiting until the perfect moment to strike. And so he must have waited, for day and weeks, until that perfect moment when the wrist rope was loose enough, and he could strike.

I zip through the rest of the pre-flight images. As far as I can tell from the grainy viewer images, nothing unusual happened when Riddick was put in his pod. I skim through the take-off. It was routine as far as I remember.

On the viewer, I rise from my flight chair, a step behind Captain Mitchell. Pete rode shot-gun, as he usually did. But he didnít actually do anything during take-off other than watch. Pete and I were never friends, but he respected my abilities as a pilot. He stayed out of my way when I was doing my job. In the quartered image, I see Owens still sitting in the navigation bubble over the cockpit. Mitchell and I touch our hands to our earpieces as Owens tells us he wants to recheck our approach to New Mecca. Pete winks at me. I remember his amusement at Owensí eager beaver first-flight behavior.

Mitchell and I climb into our tubes and hook ourselves into the cryo-system. I watch my own face go slack as the drugs begin to take effect.

In the top right image, Owens stretches and slides out of his chair. Thereís something about his expression that reminds me of when he was watching the policeman taunt Riddick. The small hairs on the back of my neck rise. Owens passes through the quartered images, moving from the flight deck towards his own cryo-locker. He doesnít climb into it, though. Instead, he walks slowly down the row of sleeping passengers. He peers into various tubes. Finally, he stops in front of one of them.

He pops the cover of the tube, revealing a pretty, dark-haired woman sleeping within. Owens reaches across her and opens the loose cloth wrap that all the passengers wear into cryo-sleep. He leans over the pod, first ogling and then groping the womanís round, white breasts. My gorge rises. What is he doing?

Owens shucks off his trousers, revealing skinny, pallid legs. He climbs into the passengerís tube and crouches over the woman. With one hand he fondles the sleeping woman, and with the other he works his little red member. His harsh breathing echoes through the still ship. I cover my mouth with my hand. I want to scream at the viewer. But some small, logical piece of my mind knows this all happened months ago. Thereís nothing I can do but watch.

An alarm sounds, causing Owens to jump. Snarling, he climbs out of the passengerís tube and walks down the row. Riddickís alarm has finally gone off. Two lockers over, I toss my head as the system begins to wake me to deal with the emergency.

His reddened face wrinkling with consternation, Owens slams his hand into the controls on the side of Riddickís pod. He hastily taps in the crew override code, shutting down the fail-safes. The alarm goes silent. My eyelids flutter, but I stop moving. Owen smiles, a ratlike baring of yellowed teeth that makes my stomach turn over. Then he walks back down the row of cryo-tubes and climbs into the passengerís tube again.

Watching Owensís pumping white buttocks does what Riddickís threats and innuendoes never managed. I lean over the arm of my flight chair and vomit up the coffee and toast that are all Iíve eaten today. Wiping my mouth, I sit back in the flight chair. The overworked automaid sluggishly sprays and vacuums up my vomit while I watch Owens finish and climb out of the passengerís tube. He wipes the dark-haired womanís stomach with a cloth. He must have pulled out of her before he came. The calculation of his assault sends a fresh wave of nausea through me. With the disorientation and general soreness after cryo-sleep, and without any tangible evidence of Owensí violation, the woman would probably never be certain that sheíd been raped. Even if she did, Owens was responsible for the in-flight recorder. He could have altered the record long before the woman made any accusation.

On the screen, Owens closes the womanís locker and walks back to his own. He pauses next to my tube and runs his fingers down the cover.

"Iíll save you for next time, bitch," he says.

I dry-heave into my hand. Dear God. He was planning to rape me, too.

Owens climbs into his tube and connects himself to the system. With all of the passengers and crew hooked up, the cryo-cycle starts. The covers of the tubes frost. On Riddickís pod, a yellow alarm light blinks silently. Inside, Riddick breathes through his bit in puffs of vapor. Owens didnít cancel the fail-safe override before he went into cryo. He left Riddick awake while he raped one of our passengers and then went to sleep.

I turn off the viewer and sit in my flight chair, shaking and sickened. I was right in thinking there was a monster onboard. I just didnít realize who it actually was.

I rise and walk down the row of cryo-tubes. Inside the first two, Mitchell and Owens are bloated and black. Iím glad the lockers contain the stink of their decomposition. I want to open Owensí tube, cut off that disgusting bit of meat hanging between his legs and ram it down his throat. But itís pointless. Riddick avenged the dark-haired woman, even though he didnít know it at the time.

I walk onwards down the row. In front of the policemanís tube, I stop and stare at him, as Iíve seen Riddick do so many times. For weeks Iíve thought of the policeman as my savior. The half-formed plans Iíd made to subdue Riddick before we reached Kelsin all involved waking the policeman and having him help me. But now Iím not sure if heís even on my side. Wounding Riddick while he was chained and helpless, leaving in the bit for no reason, those actions mark the policeman as a coward. Maybe I donít want Johns awake, any more than I want Owens alive.

I return to the sleeping quarters. The stink of pus, sweat, urine, vomit, feces greets me when I open the door. A very human stink. I smile a little. At least something about Riddick is human. I turn on the fans to vent the room before climbing into bed next to him. Looking down into his square, unhandsome face, I mull over what Iíve seen.

I am among monsters. But maybe heís not one of them.

*

When I wake, Iím wrapped around Riddick again. His skin is warm against mine, but not feverish, not sweat-soaked. I glance up at the autodoc. Reassured by the message on its display, I settle back against Riddick. Sleepily, I stroke his stubbly head, nestled between my breasts as we lie facing each other. Riddick grumbles in his sleep. Heís barely made any sound in the last two days, except a gagging noise just before he vomited. I take this noise as a good sign and let myself drift, still running my fingertips over Riddickís rough velvet scalp.

Riddick rubs his cheek against my breastbone. After two days of not shaving, his stubble makes me wince. I should have put my underwear back on before climbing into bed. Iíve been going naked for the last twenty-four hours. Pus and vomit are easier to rinse off bare skin than cloth. Now I groggily deliberate getting out of the warm bed and putting on my underwear.

As Iím still deliberating, my eyelids drifting closed, Riddick turns his head and latches on to my breast.

My eyes fly open. I start and try to pull away, but Riddick tightens those massive arms around me. One arm pins my breasts against his face. The other wraps around my hips, locking my groin against his stomach. His huge hand closes on my buttock, kneading and squeezing. He pulls my nipple deep into his mouth and begins suckling.

Shocked, both by his actions and by the sensations spiraling through me, I say his name, softly and then louder. He doesnít respond, continuing his slow sucking on my breast, his gentle kneading of my ass. His eyes are closed. His breathing is even and deep. Iím not even sure heís aware of what heís doing. I donít think heís awake.

I struggle a little, but heís got me trapped against him. Even after his illness, heís so strong I canít escape his grip. And Iím afraid of him biting down if I startle him awake. He nuzzles my breast, rolling my nipple in his mouth, furling his tongue around it and then sucking hard with the back of his throat. It reminds me of something and after a moment I place it. Iíve seen refugee infants nurse on flashes. Is that what Riddickís doing? Is he trying to nurse?

I donít want to enjoy what heís doing, but somehow the idea of Riddick nursing is less offensive than him groping me in his sleep. I relax in his arms and begin stroking his head again. Maybe heíll stop if I comfort him a little.

He makes that low grumbling noise again. It shivers across my skin from my breast to my belly. Fire is pooling there, flaring hotter and hotter with each tug of his mouth on my breast. His hand massages my ass, pressing me firmly against him. I slide my thigh over his hip to relieve the pressure on my pelvis. But that only puts pressure on a different spot. Fire licks upwards, too. I writhe in his arms at the onslaught of sensation.

He releases my nipple with a small pop. I sigh with relief. Now heíll fall back into deep sleep and stop touching me. But he doesnít. Instead he rubs his face between my breasts again and mouths his way across my skin until he finds my other breast. His hot tongue swirls around my nipple and aureole. He sucks hard on my breast, his throat and tongue and lips working like heís eating me. I canít stand it. I moan and wriggle, trying to escape or to press myself closer to him, Iím not sure which.

His hold only lets me move fractionally. Wriggling only makes it worse, makes my skin slide on his, hot and sticking with sweat. Each pore of his skin seems to lick mine when I move. So I stop moving. Except my hips. I canít seem to keep them still. His hand kneading my buttock encourages a slow rolling of my hips against his. He moves me against him in counterpoint to the tugging of his mouth on my breast.

Iím burning, burning inside. Itís a fiery ache that pulses with every pull of his mouth, every clench of his fingers. I canít stand it. And I canít stop it. Iím caught in his powerful embrace, within the inferno of his touch. He keeps sucking, licking, tugging at my breast, grinding my pelvis against his hard stomach. The fire within me expands, burning through blood and bone. I have to quench this ache before I go mad. Iím screaming inside, my body needing something so fiercely Iíll implode if I donít have it.

I know what I need. I feel the hot length of it against my leg. The tip brushes against my wet thighs as I writhe in his arms. Oh, just a little higher. Just rub along me a little and satisfy this ache.

I stretch, flexing my back, and work down in his arms just a fraction until his tip rubs across my slick labia. The fire inside me leaps. Yes, thatís what I need. His thick head parts me, slides along the aching, burning, wanting flesh within. Just a little more. Iím going to die if I canít have a little more. I roll my hips against him, bucking the pressure of his hand on my ass. And finally, finally, his tip enters me. I cry out with the pleasure of it. With the relief my body finds with just that brush of his flesh against mine. The fire in my belly races through me, licking through my marrow like his tongue licks against my sensitized nipple.

Oh, but itís still not enough.

I ache deep, deep in my core. Thatís where I need him. I twist, writhe, grapple him with my hands on his hard buttocks, my leg over his thighs, and centimeter by centimeter I work down onto him. Centimeter by centimeter that steel-silk hardness pushes into me. Iím so wet and ready that I take him in effortlessly, despite his size. And he fills me. Oh, God, he fills me. I feel him all through me. His head pushes against the deep barrier of my body and fire ripples through me again. Iíve never been so aroused, never needed a manís penetration so desperately.

I work my hips against him, gasping and pleading even though I know he canít hear me. I need him to ride me, to fill me over and over. To satisfy this fiery ache that builds and builds with each fractional movement of him inside me. Iím screaming silently, clawing at him in desperation. He moves, a quickening surge within me, a contraction of that massive hand on my ass. Iím squeezed between those two immovable forces, and his cock pushes further into me than ever.

I do scream then.

A firestorm bursts through me. My body contracts tighter and tighter around him as he rocks deep in me. I canít breathe. I canít think. I can only feel him moving in me, through me, stoking the tsunami waves of pleasure higher and higher until I shatter.

I wake shaking, slowly pulling myself back from the far stars where Iíve been flung. I open my eyes to that liquid quicksilver gaze.

*

Consciousness returns by slow degrees. Sensation by sensation. And theyíre curious sensations. Cool sheets under me. Warm skin against mine. My skin feels prickly and tight. I have vague memories of burning and freezing, of sweating out maggots and leeches, and, the strangest of all, of puking white blood into Carolynís cupped hands. That canít be right.

And then thereís whatís in my mouth. Curiouser and curiouser. Itís not the hard metal of the bit. Itís not just the familiar thickness of my own tongue. Itís firm but yielding, and it tastes, ah, it tastes wonderful. It tastes like Carolyn smells, of salt and musk and apples. I draw it deeper into my mouth, work my tongue around it, and finally place the shape and texture. Mmm, Carolynís breast. I canít think of anything Iíd rather have in my mouth. Except maybe her clitoris, but thereís time for that, too.

She wriggles in my arms, says my name, but sheís not going anywhere. This time Iíve got her. Sheís naked. Sheís pressed against me so tight I can feel each individual curl of her mound. Sheís got her breast in my mouth. She may be shy, but this is an invitation if there ever was one.

Her supple fingers stroke my head, turning my scalp into one long erogenous zone. Pleasure spirals down my spine. Sheís accepted her fate. She knows sheís not getting away. I nuzzle her, releasing one breast only because I want to taste the other. To find out if itís just as sweet.

It is. Her nipple pebbles against my tongue. I work it into my mouth, sucking until it stretches across my palate. Licking, sucking, rubbing her with the soft inner tissues of my mouth. Carolynís moaning now. Her hips are rolling against my stomach. Her little round thigh grips my waist. She works her way down me and I let her, still holding her tight, still sucking and sucking on that sweet, soft breast. She rubs herself against my head. Sheís soaked: her curls wet, her thighs slippery. I donít even have to work to enter her. She does everything, pushing herself down on me frantically, as if she canít stand the waiting any longer.

That tight wet heat encloses me. Itís better than I imagined. Like wet velvet. Sheís small, but she pushes and pushes until she takes me all the way to the hilt. I smother a groan in her breast. Not many women can take me all the way in the first time. Iím so deep in her I can feel the satin-smooth surface of her cervix rub against my glans. Sheís moving wildly, her hips jerking against mine. Her hands scrabble across my back. Sheís moaning my name, clutching at me with her hands and leg and strong internal muscles. I release her breast and straighten my back so that I can move in her. Sheís so far gone in the pleasure of our fucking, she doesnít even notice.

This is exactly the way I wanted her. Her body pressed against the length of mine. Her leg over my hip. My cock sunk deep in her. Her round ass filling my hands as I rock her back and forth. I slide easily almost all the way out of her and then all the way back in. Her cries fill my ears; her voice gone husky with pleasure. Thatís the way I wanted to hear her.

Her body grips me, her internal muscles swelling and rolling along my length. That unique tidal movement of a womanís body as she nears orgasm. Iíve only felt it a few times, but itís unmistakable, unforgettable. Hard shivers run through her, pull me deeper, pull me towards the climax thatís building between us. I let go, pounding hard into her as she screams, as her body tightens around me like a fist, milking me as I pour myself into her.

I move slowly in her afterwards, prolonging the pleasure. Sliding one hand around from her ass to her stomach, I press gently. A Company hooker showed me that when I was still with the Rangers. She claimed a woman could come again if you rubbed her right after a good first orgasm. I havenít managed it yet, but Iím happy to keep trying. I can feel Carolynís little womb contract under my palm as I stroke her. She moans softly and goes limp against me. Her head rolls back on my arm. The whites of her eyes show under her nearly closed lids.

Iíve fucked her unconscious. Thatís a first. Guess it was good for her, too.

I stroke her as she sleeps in my arms. My hands find her heart-shaped curves, the fine texture of her skin, the fuzz of hair that covers her skin like the down on a ripe peach. Iíve looked at what Iím touching now so many times. But I didnít dare give in to the desire to touch her for fear of spooking her. Whatís changed? Whatís gotten her over her fear? Why has she finally given herself to me?

Iím puzzling over this when her eyes flash open. Relief is the first thing I see in those expressive eyes. So it was a near thing, then. My headís clear enough to sort real memories from fever dreams now. I didnít sweat maggots or leeches, but I was sweating out some foul-smelling shit. And I did puke into Carolynís hands, among other places. The smell of it lingers in the room, along with the faint stink of blood, piss and shit. Poor Carolyn, sheís seen me at my worst. And she still wanted to fuck me.

Then something else floods into her eyes. Remorse. Soul-shriveling regret. Fuck. Thatís not the emotion I expected. The sex was so good I thought it would wipe out any second-thoughts she might have. I know it was good for her. You canít fake what I felt when she came.

"Carolynó" I begin.

She throws herself out of my arms and runs into the bathroom. I hear her retching as I rise stiffly out of the bed. Fuck and fuck. Thatís not the reaction I expected, either. I thought sheíd want to cuddle afterwards, to talk, maybe to fuck again if she wasnít too sore. I didnít expect her to puke after such a great screw.

Sheís sitting on the closed commode, her head down, her arms stretched into the sink, cold liquid running over her wrists.

I lean against the Ďfresher doorway, in part because standing up unaided is making me see spots. After a minute, she looks up. Shame has replaced remorse in her eyes.

"Riddick, Iím so-so sorry."

Me, too. I thought I could take the girl out of the convent, but I canít seem to take the convent out of the girl. Not even by fucking it out of her.

"Forget it." I shrug. "We were both half asleep." Thatís a lie. I feel preternaturally alert. Hyper-aware of her every movement.

"No. No, I wasnít." She shakes her head and a tear slides down her cheek. "I was awake and I knew what I was doing and I couldnít stop myself. I-I forced myself on you. Just like Owens did to that poor girl. And you-youíve been so sick. God, Riddick, Iím just so sorry." She hangs her head, her shoulders heaving.

She forced herself on me? Hell, Carolyn, you can force yourself on me any time you want.

I settle onto my haunches in front of the commode, trying to parse through what sheís said. How sheís managed to fuck herself up in the head quite this much, I donít know. But clearly she believes everything sheís said. Her expression is shattered, destroyed; tears stream down her cheeks.

"Want to start at the beginning?" I ask her in the gentlest tone I can manage.

She wipes her face with a wet hand. "Wha-what?"

"How long have I been down?"

Her eyes unfocus for a second as she checks some internal chrono. Nice wetware.

"About two days," she says.

"What happened?"

"You-you collapsed on the bed." Color flares into her pale cheeks. What about me passing out could embarrass her? "The autodoc said you had severe cryo-sickness."

Bad way to go. Messy.

"But you pulled me through." I smile at her, a genuine smile. She could have let me die. It would have been an easy out for her. In fact, why didnít she? There are a host of unanswered questions here. But I tuck them away for later. When she doesnít look like all the light has gone out of the universe.

"Riddick, IĖ" She hangs her head. "I didnít do anything anyone else wouldnít have done."

I doubt that. I wasnít imagining puking into her hands. "That ainít how I remember it."

"What do youó? No, you were out the whole time."

I shrug. "I remember bits and pieces."

Carolyn shakes her head and wipes her eyes again. Whateverís rattled her so bad, we havenít gotten to it yet.

"And I remember all of this morning," I tell her. She hangs her head. "Howíd that happen?"

"I-I, uhó" She covers her face with her hands. This is it. This is the root of it. Itís just fucking me thatís her problem.

I ease up off my haunches. Squatting like thatís making my back ache. And now that the initial rush of adrenaline has passed, Iím feeling light-headed. I want to lie down.

"Carolyn, I donnow what you think happened. But you didnít force yourself on me. I was a willing victim." I pause in the doorway of the Ďfresher. "You can sit in here cryiní over whatever you think you did wrong. Or you can come back to bed with me."

I turn my back on her and walk unsteadily to the bed. My head is spinning. Lying down is better. Lying down with Carolyn would be even better. But she doesnít join me. I lie there and listen to her sniffle in the bathroom for a few minutes.

"Carolyn, come here," I finally say.

The water goes off and she appears in the doorway. "Riddickó"

I donít really want to hear whatever delusion sheís trying to talk herself into. "Just come here."

She shuffles over to the bed, still wiping at her nose. I should be worried about whatís going on in her head. But itís hard to concentrate on anything other than the slide of the dim emergency light over her pale skin as she moves. It highlights the muscles flexing in her thighs, the curves of her soft belly, the dark tips of her breasts. Thereís no way Iím keeping my hands off her if she gets back in this bed. But maybe thatís a good thing. We seem to understand each other best when weíre touching.

She slides in next to me. She doesnít touch me, and I can feel her shivering. I roll onto my back and stretch out an arm. After a minute, she scoots back against my side.

"You-youíre really not angry?"

What goes on in that fucked-up little head? Did she somehow miss that I whack off every morning fantasizing about her? Sheís heard me say her name while I jerk off dozens of times. It gets her hot even if she doesnít want to admit it. So why would she think Iíd be angry about finally getting what Iíve wanted for so long?

"No," I say. The understatement of the millennium.

"Riddickó" She turns hesitantly and slides her arm across my chest. She stares up at me, emotions flickering through her eyes so fast I canít read them all. "How are you feeling?"

Thatís not what she wanted to ask, but I have a sense weíll get back to it. Whateverís going on in her head, itís a powerful mind-fuck, and itíll be back to haunt her later. Iím just hoping she doesnít puke after every time we screw. ĎCause we sure as hell arenít going back to those blue-ball platonic snuggles now that Iíve found out what a good lay she is.

"Better." Thatís mostly the truth. My backís a fucking knot again and if she wasnít still on the edge of hysterics, Iíd ask her to rub it. But for the moment, lying here touching her is enough.

"Have you ever had cryo-sickness before?" Her voice is steadier now. Sheís found safe ground.

"Nope." Never having it again either if I can help it. Iím slashing through Johnís life-support as soon as I can stand up. Itís too easy a death for him, but Iím not risking him putting me back in cryo ever again.

Then something cold trickles down my spine. Johns . . . sheís been awake and had the run of the ship for two days while Iíve been down. Whatís she done in those forty-eight hours? Is she feeling guilty just for fucking me, or because sheís fucked me over?

"Where are we, Carolyn?" I ask, as neutrally as I can manage.

"About eighty hours from Terra Unnova." She yawns, stifles it with the back of her hand. "Weíll pick up fuel there."

Iíve never heard of it and tell her so.

She shrugs. The movement tucks her a little closer against my side. If I wasnít so worried about Johns bursting in and clapping me back in manacles, Iíd really be enjoying this. Cuddling after sex is something Iíve missed for far too long.

"Itís not settled," she says. "Thatís why I picked it. Thereís a Ďdo not landí prohibition. Something about hostile life forms. But all we need to do is siphon up some water into the fuel tanks, so we should be fine."

If thatís all thatís happened in the last two days, yes, we should. So weíre still on course. She stuck to the plan. But what about Johns? Has she woken him? Has she figured out a way to send out a distress call? Will there be mercs waiting for us at Brevin? I mull over how to ask her without alienating her completely. Sheís so warm and soft against me. I donít want to ruin this. But I need to know.

"What else have you been up to?"

She tenses. So she was up to something.

"Wh-what makes you think Iíve been doing anything but taking care of you?"

ĎCause you nearly jumped out of your skin when I asked the question. "Just wondering."

"Youíve kept me pretty busy."

Not so busy that you werenít up to something. I roll onto my side, slide my other arm around her and look down into her expressive eyes. Theyíll tell me what I want to know.

She stares up at me, her eyes raw, naked. I swallow what I was going to say. Thereís something wounded deep in her eyes. Something that broke her trust in people and made her guard her body as fiercely as she does her heart. Anything I ask her now, any indication of distrust, will reopen that wound. Iíll have to bide my time and find out if sheís betrayed me another way. Asking her now, fresh after sheís given herself to me, will break whatever fragile trust we have.

"Wh-what now?" she breathes. Face to face, her breath is foul.

"Now Iím gonna kiss you, Carolyn." I smile gently. "But first you gotta brush your teeth."

*

Kissing her turns out to be almost as erotic as sucking her breast. But I donít find that out immediately, because as sheís brushing her teeth, the red-eyed globe sheís hung over the bed announces that Iím dehydrated and malnourished. Carolyn races back into the bedroom, her mouth still full of foam, when the autodoc goes off.

"Iíll get you a tray from the galley," she says around the foam.

I shake my head. Getting up and stretching out my back seems like a good idea right now. And as long as I take advantage of my invalidism, I can do it and keep touching her. A win-win situation, you might say.

"Finish brushing your teeth and weíll go together. Iím ready to get up."

Disappointment creases her forehead for a second, quickly wiped away. I hide a smile. So she was looking forward to coming back to bed, despite whateverís screwing her head around sideways. Good. Donít worry, Carolyn, we got plenty of time for everything.

I play weak, and she actually suggests supporting me before I do. Good ploy. I lean on her, my arm over her shoulder, her arm circling my waist, as we walk the few steps to the galley. Her soft breast presses against my ribs; her other breast is just under my hand. Itís tempting to reach down, brush my palm against her nipple and feel it furl. But that would give away the game.

Carolynís so eager to make me comfortable, to make sure I have everything I need, itís almost laughable. Despite my silence, she eats a big plate of food herself, more than Iíve seen her eat since the start of our little odyssey.

"You were hungry," I observe as she finishes what has to be her fifth sausage.

She nods. "I didnít have time to eat while you were sick." Her voice is steady, but thereís faint heat in her cheeks. Hmm. Sheís not lying, but sheís not telling me the whole truth, either.

She looks at my tray and then up at me anxiously. Such a good little Florence Nightingale. "Have you eaten enough? Do you want anything more?"

I want more, but not food. My bellyís full, and that pleasant fullness soothes away the last sense of sickness. I feel good, strong. But not satiated. Definitely ready for more.

"Iím full." I rub my hand across my forehead as though my headís spinning. "Think I should lie down, though."

Carolyn jumps up so fast she knocks over her chair. "Okay. Okay, let me help you." She fumbles, trying to right her chair and support me at the same time. As if Iím going to suddenly fall out of my chair. I have to swallow a chuckle.

Once she gets her chair righted, she pulls my arm over her shoulders again and tries to lift me. Sheís gotten stronger since we started sparring, but she still canít budge me. I rise, gripping the table with one hand as though I need the support.

"Itís just a few steps," she says encouragingly. I keep my head down to hide my grin. She wouldnít appreciate knowing how much this tickles me. No oneís ever been so eager to help me do anything.

Back in the sleeping quarters, I turn towards the Ďfresher instead of the bed. "Just a second. I need the john."

Itís tempting to make her help me there, too. Having her hold my cock while I piss could be all kinds of amusing. But sheís already had to clean me up plenty, so I figure Iíll give her a break and do it myself.

"Okay. Iíll just change the bed," she says as I take a shuffling step towards the commode. I hear her whipping the sheets off the bed as I empty my bladder. Standing in the small Ďfresher, I can smell the sour odor of my body. She did a good job cleaning me while I was sick. The smell is nothing more than sweat. But even thatís offensive. For years I couldnít clean myself when I wanted. Now Iím free, and I can shower whenever I fucking well like.

I step into the shower, only to have her join me a moment later. She looks up at me without guile, all earnest desire to help. "Are you okay? Do you want me to help?"

Do I want her little naked self in the shower with me? No . . .

"Could use some help with my back," I say, turning it to her to hide my grin.

She soaps my back thoroughly, then rubs her thumbs across my shoulders and down my spine. I groan. My knees go weak and I grab on to the wall of the shower to keep from collapsing. She gives such good back.

"Riddick? Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Donít stop."

"Does your back hurt? Here." She presses her knuckles into my lower back, working down the long, tight muscles there. I rest my forehead against the shower wall and close my eyes. That feels so good. Itís almost better than sex. Well, no, not better than sex with Carolyn.

She works down over my ass, pressing deep into my twinging sciatic nerve. Relief pours through me, almost orgasmic in its intensity. My cock rises and brushes the wet wall. I have a sudden image of picking up Carolyn, slamming her against the wall and sinking to the balls in her. I could do it. I donít think sheíd fight me now. But itís not worth stopping what sheís doing to my back.

She works her thumbs up and down along my spine until my back feels as fluid as the blue liquid running down it. Fucking her with my back this loose would be glorious. Will be glorious.

She reaches the top of my neck and stops, her hands lingering on my skin, uncertain.

"My front needs soaping, too." I turn, rolling my head along the wall. When Iím facing her, I arch my back, flexing my chest and stomach for her. My cock rises between us and brushes her soft stomach.

She stares up at me. Something shifts in her eyes. Sheís beginning to realize that Iíve been playing her. Will she play along or play pissed off?"

"Are you teasing me?"

"Yeah," I admit. "But I really could use help with the soap."

Carolyn smiles. She runs a soapy hand over my chest, down my stomach. I suck in a breath at the sensation. She glances up at me. Now thereís guile in those expressive eyes. Sheís decided to play along. And she can tease, too.

Her hand drifts lower. Her palm slides across my glans.

"Does this need soaping, too?" she asks. Ah, she really can tease. I suck my lower lip into my mouth.

She smiles again, a sirenís smile, seductive and sweet. Her slippery hand closes on my cock. She works it gently, her thumb gliding over my tip the way it glided over the muscles of my back. I lean back against the cool shower wall and give myself over to the motion of her hand. She strokes me slowly, soaping me from base to tip, and I recognize the rhythm. Sheís seen me jerk off so many times sheís memorized the way I do it.

Her hand slides down my base, her fingers slipping over my balls. I sigh, suck in my lower lip. Having a woman stroke my nuts is one of my all-time favorite things. Iíve missed it for so long Iíd almost forgotten.

Carolynís hand strays to my thighs and I glance down at her in mock-protest. She grins up at me. The light in her eyes is wicked. Sheís going to torment me, and for these few minutes, I donít mind playing by her rules.

She rubs soap into my legs, working slowly all the way down to my toes. Her touch thrums through me, a counterpoint to the pulsing of my cock, the pounding of my balls. She runs her hands up the backs of my legs, kneading my calves. Kneeling, her face is almost level with my cock. She knows it, too. She ducks her head so that her wet curls brush my thighs. Hot, shivery expectancy of the feeling of her mouth on my cock rushes through me. Oh, Carolyn, you are such a good tease.

She works her way up, her hands sliding up the backs of my thighs. Her supple fingers cup my ass. She slips a finger into my crack and I start. I didnít expect that from her. But I like this hint of wildness. I widen my stance against the wall, opening myself to however she wants to touch me. She strokes me, working soap along the crack of my ass. Then she circles her finger over the tight closure of my rectum. I shift. This is beginning to remind me uncomfortably of my early days in slam.

Carolyn must sense my discomfort, because she gives my ass a final squeeze and rises. Good. Having her on her knees, giving me head, would be a little too reminiscent of slam right now, too.

She leans into me. Her flesh is slick, cool, like some exotic sea creature. The points of her nipples press against my chest. She reaches up and rubs her fingers over my stubbled scalp.

"Let me shave you," she whispers.

I start to shake my head. Iíve never let anyone near my throat with a razor. But this isnít slam. There are no razors here, just an efficient chemical whisker that Carolyn plucks from its pocket in the shower column.

When I nod, she runs it over my cheeks and jaw, and then over my scalp. I stand still under her ministrations. When she clicks the whisker off and replaces it in the column, I lift my freshly-shaven head and find her looking at me. Her eyes are filled with such heat it rocks me. I knew there was a warm woman under there, but I had no idea she was hiding such passion.

She steps against me, slides her arms around my neck as she goes up on tiptoe, and kisses me.

She kisses like she means it. Pressing her mouth against mine softly at first, then deeper and deeper until we could be eating each other. Our lips and tongues meet, catch, tug, part only to press together again. Her kisses stir me. I havenít kissed many women. Hookers wonít let you and strays donít want to. But Carolyn clearly likes to kiss.

I pull her tight to me, until her body is locked into mine. Slamming off the shower with my elbow, I lift her against my chest. Iím clean, and Iím very ready for bed.

Carolyn giggles as I carry her through the Ďfresher and into the bedroom. I smile against her mouth, suck on her lower lip until sheís too breathless to laugh. I like her playfulness. Everything up to now has been all hot urgency. Thereís been no time for play. And not enough trust for it, either.

Now thereís both.

We lie on the clean sheets, touching and kissing until weíre both dry on the outside, wet where we join at mouth and groin. Sheís taken me inside her, but Iím not moving in her yet. Iím just lying inside her, held deep in her soft body, while we explore each other. Iíve never been like this with a woman. With anyone.

She touches me gently, reverently. Her fingers trace the lines of my body: my smooth scalp, the long muscles of my neck, the curves of shoulder and arm and back. I seek out her erogenous zones in return. She loves to be kissed. I didnít realize until I was inside her just how much she likes it. Her body ripples around mine whenever my mouth finds her skin. I kiss and suck her mouth, her neck, her shoulders, the delicate skin of her inner wrist and elbow, until each point glows with heat in my vision. Her breasts are exquisitely sensitive. No wonder she went so wild the first time we fucked. I keep my mouth off them this time, exploring with my fingers instead, feathering my fingertips across the white skin of them until her flesh goosebumps, tracing the roundness of her aureole. She shudders, throwing her head back, when I roll her nipples between my fingers.

"God, Riddick, yes."

I like the way she says my name when sheís excited. Husky and sweet. I like it even more that she says it with me inside her, as her body contracts around mine. I know this isnít a casual fuck for her, but somehow itís all the more intimate when she calls my name.

Playing with her nipples finally sends her over the edge. She wraps her legs around me and bucks her hips. I roll her onto her back, catch her hands with mine, stretch them both above our heads, so that Iím looking directly down into her face as I begin to move inside her. Her face is soft, her eyes glazed, her cheeks flushed. Thereís none of that hard-faced, Ďfuck meí expression that hookers wear. Her expression is almost . . . loving.

I thrust slow, deep, bumping my glans against the smooth closure of her cervix with each thrust. She moans softly, biting her lips. Her head arcs back again, her eyes half-closed. But sheís still looking up at me, still holding my eyes as she moves under me, her hips rocking to my rhythm, her body clenching around my cock. I feel her tidal surge and let it wash over us. Pumping slow and hard into her orgasm. Kissing her throat to feel her scream my name as well as hear it. Finally letting go and ramming home when I climax, flooding her with my heat.

My orgasm goes on and on. Each time I expect it to end, another spasm hits. I feel like Iím coming eternally in her, and her body keeps pace with mine, contracting around me, milking me, until we finally collapse together, shaking and spent.

I roll onto my side to keep from crushing her as we relax into the aftermath. She slides her leg over my hip and pulls me tight against her. She likes to hold me inside her afterwards, so I let her, and I drift off still inside her, still cradled by her body, thinking that thereís nowhere Iíd rather be.

*

I wake chilled, missing Riddickís warmth. Harsh breathing echoes through the small quarters. Is Riddick back in the Ďfresher? Why? Wasnít he satisfied? I know he came. At least, I think I remember him coming. There was that wild motion at the end . . .

A faint smell drifts through the sleeping quarters. I sniff, trying to place it. My nose wrinkles as it gets stronger. Itís the sickly-sweet smell of decomposition. Of rotting flesh. The smell washes over me in ghastly waves, leaving me sick, shaking. I reach out. What is that smell? And where is Riddick?

A black tether at my wrist restrains my movement. I stare up at the binding. Each of my wrists is bound to the bed. And I recognize these tethers. Theyíre what the policeman used to restrain Riddick in his cryopod. Has Riddick tied me up with his own ropes? Why? I wouldnít try to get away from him now.

A hissing noise at the end of the bed draws my attention away from the bindings. I raise my head as far as I can, straining my neck. Itís dark in the sleeping quarters. A little light from the Ďfresher falls across the bottom of the bed. Thereís something moving in the shadows there. I squint. Is that the slide of light on caramel skin?

No. Thereís a dragging noise, and Riddick never makes any noise when he moves. Then the thing making the noise steps into the light and I scream.

"Hello, Carolyn."

Itís Owens, bloated and black but somehow alive, terribly, terribly alive. He grins at me, discolored teeth glinting in the low light. His arm works as he stares at me. I strain my neck further to see what heís doing. My gorge rises when I see his hand wrapped around the base of his dick, tugging and tugging at it. But itís not the little red thing I saw on the shipís recorder. Itís massive Ė a huge tapering spear of flesh that hangs down below his knees. And itís albino white, pallid and writhing like a slug. He takes another shuffling step forward and I gag as his stench rolls over me again.

"Ready, Carolyn? I saved this just for you," Owens says.

I scream, pulling futilely at the bonds on my wrists. Kicking at him as he climbs onto the bottom of the bed. He bats my legs aside the way Riddick does when we spar and worms up between them, until the tip of his massive penis slides across my thighs. Itís cold and slick, like meat out of a freezer. Owensí bloated face fills my vision. Heís chuckling, leering as he leans over me, ready to stick that grotesque white thing into me. God help me! Donít let this happen to me! Where is Riddick?!

"Right here. Wake up, Carolyn," he says gruffly in my ear.

I bolt upright, a scream catching in my throat. Nausea doubles me over. I hug my stomach and rock back and forth, curled over my knees.

Riddickís huge hand rubs up my spine. The warmth of his hand chases away the chills running down my back.

"You okay?"

I nod, but itís a lie. I may never be okay again.

Riddick sits up next to me. He puts his arm around my shoulders and tucks me against his side. "Some nightmare."

I nod again, lick my lips with a tongue that feels thick and furry.

"Wanna tell me about it?"

I shake my head. Riddick canít understand. Heís a man, a big man, whoís never had to fear rape. And my throat closes when I even think about trying to explain about Owens, to admit that I so miserably failed to protect the passengers, including Riddick himself.

"Címere, Carolyn." Riddick stretches back out on the bed and draws me down beside him. His warmth sinks into me, stops my shivering. I cuddle to his side, resting my head on his broad shoulder. The heat of his body beats through me in soothing waves. His breathing bellows deep and even under my ear. By slow degrees, his body soothes me and I relax against him.

His big hand strokes my hair. "Ever been raped, Carolyn?" he asks, his deep voice so low and quiet itís just a hair above a whisper.

I shake my head against his shoulder.

"How did you know?" I ask.

"Heard what you were screaminí." He strokes my hair in silence for a few moments.

Then he says softly, "Take it from someone whoís been there. Rapeís not something to be feared. Avoided, sure. Endured when you have to. But itís not something to live in fear of. It doesnít kill you. Doesnít even break you if you donít let it. Itís like any other injury. You heal."

He looks down at me with his silvery eyes. I canít read them. I can see from his face that heís serious, earnest. Is that Ė compassion Ė in those quicksilver eyes?

"Your fear of being rapedís so large, every man you come across can smell it," he says. "Taste it. Almost rub it between his fingers. I could within a coupla minutes of meeting you. You gave me the keys to controlling you with just the fear in your eyes, Carolyn. Someday someone is gonna roll you just to use that fear against you. You got to conquer it before it eats you."

I swallow hard. "Youíve been there?" I whisper, incredulous. But itís clear heís being completely honest with me.

"Yeah. Every new fish in slam gets speared at least once. ĎSpecially if theyíre like me. Half of nothiní."

"Bu-but, youíre so big!"

He chuckles. "Always someone bigger, Carolyn."

"And you were . . .?"

"I got the shower initiation. Just like everyone else. I endured it. Fought back when I could. Kept it from happening again. But I always knew it could. Anytime. I lived with it. And I never let the fear rule me, Carolyn."

I rub my hand across his chest. I thought he wouldnít understand. But heís the only man Iíve ever met who does. Perfectly. And heís right. Iíve let my fear of a manís violation rule me, all the way back to my miserable marriage.

"I-I saw something while you were sick," I say, fumbling for the words to explain the source of my immediate horror.

"Yeah?" he asks. His deep voice is so gentle itís almost a caress.

"I looked at the flight record. I-I was trying to figure out why you had cryo-sickness. Iíd assumed youíd been loose for the whole flight. I thought the policeman didnít lock you down right. So I watched the flight record to see what happened at take-off."

"And whatíd you see?"

"I saw Owens rape one of the passengers. When everyone was unconscious. Before the freezers kicked in. Ow-Owens raped a woman while we were all sleeping."

"Mmm." He rumbles deep in his chest. Itís an encouraging sound, meant to be soothing, to give me space to go on.

"And . . . and after he finished, he came back to my cryopod and he said, ĎIíll save you for next time.í"

Riddick strokes my hair again. "Near miss."

"And then-then I came back here andó"

"Yeah, I see. You came back here and had sex with me after just watching the rape. Hard to watch, isnít it?"

"Yes." I turn my face into his shoulder at the memory, but something inside me unwinds. Some knot of fear and shame and remorse. He understands. And thereís no hesitancy as he strokes my head. He doesnít blame me.

But there is an undercurrent of tension in his body. Itís not the tension of anger. What is it? What has he had to witness during his years in prison? I canít imagine it. I donít want to hear about it. But heís listened so sympathetically to me. Can I do any less for him? Who else has he had to tell about all the horrors heís seen? Who has held him after he wakes from his own nightmares?

"Who did you have to watch?" I ask.

He glances at me, his eyes neutral, but a tiny frown creases his brow. Then he rolls his neck until it pops.

"Iíve had to watch a coupla times," he says, looking up at the ceiling. "Once in slam when I couldnít stop it. Twice outside. The worst was Novalis. Johns made me watch when he did Annie and her two kids."

I blink at him, unbelieving. "The policemanó?"

Riddick smiles humorlessly, and if we werenít lying so close, with his arm around me, his great heart beating slowly under my cheek, Iíd be afraid. Not of him, exactly. Maybe for him. For the damage the things heís seen has inflicted on his soul.

"Johns ainít a cop," he says. "Heís got himself that nickle-slick badge. And that blue uniform. But heís just a merc. Only rules he plays by are the ones he makes up as he goes along."

"Bu-but whyó?"

"Why rape Annie and Zack and Stazie?" He shrugs. "Couldnít tell you. Iím not wired that way."

The horror of it, and of knowing that Riddick had to watch while Johns raped a woman and two children that Riddick obviously knew and cared about, squeezes tears out of my eyes. I wipe them on his skin.

"Carolyn, youíre a real soft touch," he says. But thereís none of the disgust I expect to hear in his voice. He says it as though he doesnít mind.

"And youíre such a hardcase," I sniffle.

Riddick shrugs. "My reputationís useful. Just not very accurate."

"You didnít kill anyone?"

"No, I did. Not the way they said, or why. But I am a killer. Make no mistake about that."

"How did it happen?"

"On Tiorine? My squad scragged our field commanders when we realized the Zenos we were clearing out of the mines were sentients, just protecting their food source, not trying to kill us or the miners."

"I donít understand."

Riddick shrugs again. "Itís ancient history."

"Iíd still like to hear it."

He sighs, a great whoosh of air through the chest under my cheek. "I was part of a Ranger squad sent to Tiorine to protect Company miners from tunnel-bugs. You know what those are?"

I nod. "Iíve seen the flashes. They look like roaches."

"Three meter long roaches that spit acid and can cut a man in full nano-armor in half with their mandibles."

I swallow. He has seen some things that would give me nightmares.

"You fought them?"

"For three years. Then two men outta my company got trapped in a cave-in with one of them. When they came out, Will and Schrodie could hear the bugs in their heads. They could tell us what the bugs were thinking. That the bugs were thinking."

"But then the fighting should have stopped. The extermination of sentients is bannedó"

"The Company doesnít give a shit for the Tau Epsilon Accords, Carolyn. They wanted the titanium on that rock and they didnít care who died to get it. Will and Schrodie were shipped out. Extreme field trauma, the medics said. But Iím betting their families were told they died in action. And we were ordered back in."

"So you killed your commanding officers?"

"Uh-huh. And the on-site Company skags."

"Surely there was another way."

"Were you there, Carolyn?" he asks, a cool edge to his voice.

"N-no. I mean, that seems very extreme."

"It was. We were dying down there. A man or two every day. Good men who deserved better than to die that way. We were losing ground against the bugs. We knew we were in the wrong. And they ordered us back in anyway. Pretty fucking extreme."

I rub his chest, feeling foolish. I only know what the flashes reported about Tiorine, and it clearly wasnít the truth.

"Iím sorry, Riddick. I didnít know."

"No one does. Why díyou think the Company shipped us off to a civvie slam instead of a military prison? They buried us and their dirty secrets and closed Tiorine so no one would ever know."

Heís staring at the ceiling again, his silver eyes shuttered and cold. I wish heíd look at me. I wish his eyes would warm again, the way they did when he talked to me about conquering my fear. Before I made him dredge up the horrors of his past.

I slide up his chest so I can look down into his eyes. Touching the tips of my fingers to his mouth, I say, "Iím sorry, Riddick. Iím sorry for everything. I wish I could undo it all."

He looks at me and the glacial blue of his irises softens. "Just get me to Kelsin."

"I will," I promise. And I mean it. Whatever half-formed plans Iíd made to turn him in, to wake the policeman Johns, I discard them. He deserves better. Heís been among monsters, too. Perhaps for so long that heís come to look a little like them in self-defense. But heís not a monster, and he deserves to be free of them.

*

I wake without the sense of Carolyn, without her weight on me, without her soft skin sticking to mine. Where is she? I fell asleep inside her earlier and thatís where I want to be now. Iím so used to having her on me when I wake that itís unnatural to be without her.

Her scentís all around me. Sheís close. I crack open an eye and find her next to me in the bed. Sheís lying on her back, her arms up over her head. She sleeps like an infant.

I roll up onto one elbow and look down at her. Awake and clothed, sheís pretty. Asleep and naked, sheís beautiful. Pale, tousled curls frame her fine-boned face. Her skinís like cream poured over the muscle and bone underneath. Her breasts rise gently from her ribcage, two soft globes tipped with rosebud nipples. They cry out to be touched, fondled, kissed, sucked.

I lean across her to take one of those little buds into my mouth. It hardens against my tongue as I lick it and Carolyn sighs in her sleep. Her gentle hands slide up to cradle my head. Her back arcs slightly, tilting her breasts up to me.

I smile against her skin. Sheís so responsive, even in her sleep. Moving over her, I lie between her legs, resting my weight on one arm so Iím not crushing her. She never complains, but I know Iím heavy.

Her knee comes up and her leg slides down my back. Her body opens under me. I can feel her wetness against my stomach. I slide down further to look at what Iím feeling. The soft, secret opening of her body. In my night vision, itís a montage of silver-grays. I run my thumb along her labia, swollen and still wet from our fucking. They part naturally to let me see the tender nub of flesh at the top, the furls and folds within. At my touch, she moans and rolls her hips. I smile, watching her.

What a bundle of contradictions Carolyn is. With my head between her legs, my fingers stroking her, I look up at her face and wonder again what goes on in her mind. Sheís tough enough to stand up to me, but so soft-hearted that the pain of strangers wrings tears out of her. Sheís so terrified of forced sex that I could control her with the mere threat of it, but she gave herself to me willingly once she understood I wouldnít force her. Sheís all cool professionalism on the outside, but underneath that veneer thereís passion and almost bottomless need. Her unabashed desire humbles me. She holds nothing back when weíre in bed, even once weíre finished fucking. Sheís completely honest, completely open.

Iíve never been with a woman like Carolyn Fry. I didnít know there were women like her. She warms something in me. Something I didnít know was cold. I drop my head to that tender female flesh under my fingers to share the heat she raises in me.

*

I slide out from under Carolyn. My stomachís rumbling. Time to find some food. The sheets under me are soaked from our fuck-fest. Iíve lost track of time, lost track even of how many times Iíve come while Carolyn and I have been humping like bunnies, but I donít think weíve been out bed for a day or two.

The sheets need changing anyway, so breakfast in bed seems like a pretty good idea.

Carolyn murmurs sleepily and I lean back over the bed to brush my lips gently across her forehead.

"Iím bringiní back breakfast."

She slides a hand around my neck and brings me back down for a deeper kiss. "Donít be long," she whispers. Her voice runs through my blood like fever. She can turn me on with just a few words.

I smooth my hand over her hair and ease her back down onto the bed. She closes her eyes and nuzzles the pillow.

When I return with eggs, bacon, toast, sausage and fruit, Carolynís sitting up in bed. Sheís wearing her halter top and skivvies. From the absence of stink, I can tell sheís changed the sheets. Tidy woman, even naked in wet sheets. I like her habits. Easy to live with.

I put the tray across her knees and hand her one of the cups of coffee Iím carrying.

"Thought weíd save makiní the bed for after breakfast."

She shrugs. "The sheets were soaked."

I give her a wide grin, which broadens when she blushes. Sheís still so easy to tease.

I sprawl across the bottom of the bed. "So, whaddo you want to do today?" I run two fingers up the curve of her calf.

She lifts a pale eyebrow at me. "Practice the refueling run."

I slide my hand over her knee and up her thigh with a soft chuckle. She shivers a little.

"Sure, Carolyn."

"I mean it, Riddick. Weíre two days away from the planet and you donít even know how to operate the pumps yet."

"Iíll be ready when the time comes." I take a couple of bites of toast. "But this morning Iíve got other plans."

She looks at me over the edge of her coffee cup. "Oh?"

"Yeah." I push the trays out of my way and take the cup from her. She giggles when I pull her under me. Her willingness to play along, her evident delight in our fucking, excites me beyond anything Iíve known. All Carolyn has to do is look at me with those eyes of hers, those eyes full of bottomless need, and Iím ready to go all over again. I canít get enough of her. And from the look in those expressive eyes of hers, I think the feeling might be mutual.

*

"Entering the troposphere," Carolyn says, her voice tinny in my ear-piece. "Five minutes to touch-down."

"Check," I acknowledge. Iím blind, deaf and dumb here in the closed, cramped space above the pumps. Not even my eyes can penetrate this darkness. But my other senses are filled with Carolyn. Her voice in my ears, her lingering scent in my nose. The smell of her is so strong in this small space that itís almost tangible. I can almost feel her under my fingers. And the memory of fucking her in here while she was trying to teach me the pump sequence is so fresh I can still taste the sweetness of her mouth.

I smile and focus on the task at hand.

Pop the airlock, drop the nozzles into the water, switch on the pumps, suck up the fuel, cut and run. Sounds simple, like every plan.

But I have a bad feeling about this already. Itís too simple. And simple plans inevitably go down the crapper. Iíve kept my doubts to myself, though. Carolynís worried enough about the refueling as it is. She made me practice the pump sequence fifty times Ė even after I distracted her against the wall for an hour Ė and even though itís so simple a merc could do it.

Well, maybe not Johns.

"One minute, Riddick," Carolyn says in my ear. "Mask up. Iím opening the lock."

I tap the wrist controls on my borrowed flight suit. Gel rises around my neck, over my chin. Within a second, it slides over my scalp. A slippery, silky feeling. Not so different from the touch of Carolynís fingers. I hold my breath, the way Carolynís taught me, until I can feel the goo push up my nose. Then I let out a breath. The gel puffs around my mouth, and on my inhale, my lungs fill with oxygen. I have to stop myself from blowing my nose. Feels like my headís full of snot. But I can breathe, and thatís all that matters.

At my feet a circle of light dials open. Iíve got my goggles on under the breather. Weíve landed on the edge of daylight, when the planetís inhabitants are supposed to be dormant. Although I knew what to expect, the lightís still painfully bright after weeks of comfortable dimness. I squint down at the blowing, rippling blue below.

Water appeals to some primitive sense. Something in me knows itís the source, the primordial soup from which life began. No matter whatís in it, no matter how poisoned or deadly, water still calls forth something deep and undeniable. Iíve never seen so much clear, blue water in one place. My chest aches with the beauty of it.

Thatís my excuse, anyway, for not spotting them before the first ones were on us.

"Riddick!" Carolyn shouts in my ear-piece.

"Yeah, starting the pumps now."

"No, Iím closing up."

"Whatís wrong?"

"Multiple alien life forms. Theyíre right under us. Can you see anything?"

All I can see is the rippling blue spreading in all directions, the silver-gold flash of fading light on the waves.

"Thereís nothing down here," I say. "Waitó"

I squint into the glare, and see a silver-gold bubble rise off the disturbed surface of the water. I kneel to watch its progress. The bubble brushes across the shipís underbelly, bobbing gently across the hull-plates. With a squelching sound, small and soft over the mic, it attaches to the hull, like a soap bubble clinging to a leaf.

A klaxon immediately sounds in my ear.

"Hull integrity compromised," the shipís mechanical voice says.

"Riddick! Whatís going on?"

"We got one on the hull."

Over the klaxon, I hear scrambling sounds. The ship shudders, then steadies out. "Stay on station, Riddick. Iím coming down."

Keeping one eye out for more bubbles, I hit the sequence to lower and start the pumps. A huge bellows drops from the ceiling down towards the hole. Four accordion hoses unravel from the bellows and plunge into the water below. A steady chugging fills the small space. A gauge on the pump controls begins to rise.

A snick of the airlock behind me. Carolyn steps through into the small space. Her eyes flash at me through the gel of her breather. She hauls on something and pulls it through the airlock: a wheeled canister that sheís dragging by a hose wrapped over her shoulder.

"Stand clear," she says, her voice unnaturally crisp over the suit mic.

She kneels carefully next to the dangling hoses and peers through the hole. Even before she pulls back up, sheís shaking her head.

"No good. I canít get a clear shot at it with the pumps down. Iím going to have to open up the main cabin ramp and see if I can get it from there."

And let those things into the main cabin? I donít think so.

"Let me try."

Carolyn eyes my suited shoulders as if sheís never seen me before. As if she hasnít spent hours stroking and kissing the breadth sheís now ogling.

"Youíll never fit, Riddick."

I eye the space between the hoses and the rim of the opening. Sheís right; I wonít.

I kneel next to her, holding the hoses aside so I can look through the aperture at the bubble. Carolynís breath hisses in my ears at my casual handling of the pumps, but Iíve handled them more than Iíve handled her over the last twelve hours, and I know what they can take. I gauge the angle, the distance to the bubble. Then I pull my head back through the hole.

"Ever seen the circus?"

Carolyn shakes her head.

"Todayís your lucky day, then." ĎCause sheís about to become the girl on the flying trapeze.

She frowns, her gesture rippling the breather. "Riddick, what are you talking about?"

"Iím gonna hold your legs and lower you through. You shoot the bubble with whatever you got in there." I nod at the canister. "Good angle. Clear shot."

Those expressive eyes look dubious.

"Or you can open up the main hold and risk letting a bunch of those things in here."

Carolyn hitches one shoulder. I know that gesture. Sheís debating. I still donít know what goes on in that little head, but I can tell when itís happening now.

"Okay, letís give it a go." She leans over the canister and flips switches until a control panel lights up. Then she pulls a handle up from the top of the canister and pumps it. One, two, three strokes.

"Ready." She tucks the hose under her arm and looks at me expectantly. I shift around behind her, spreading her legs so I can kneel between her calves. Then I wrap my arm around her hips and with the other hand guide her head down into the hole.

She goes over my arm completely relaxed. Trusting. I brace my free hand on the rim of the hole and bend over, my face in the hoses. My back seizes from the awkward position and the pull of Carolynís weight. Sheís going to owe me one long backrub after this.

Carolynís knees slide backwards on the deck until her legs lie flat and her entire torso is hanging through the hole, held from the fall into the water below only by my arm around her waist. I canít see anything with my face in the hoses, but I can feel her moving. I can hear the whoosh of what I figure is a flamethrower.

And then I hear Carolyn scream.

I yank her back through the hole so fast her elbows slam into the rim and she drops the flamethrowerís nozzle. Then sheís in my lap, facing me, her head down, twisting, clawing at her own sides. I spin her around.

A small silvery bubble is attached to her back. Her suit has already started to char around the bubbleís edges. I can see Carolynís pale skin through spreading holes in the blackened fabric.

I turn her back around. Her eyes meet mine for a second, wide with shock and pain. I grab the front closure of her suit and rip it open, stripping her the way she probably always feared. She helps me, her gloved hands tearing at the waist seal. I yank the suit down her arms and as soon as sheís free of it, I grab her by the neck and shove her towards the airlock. The suitís all thatís keeping her from decompressing in the planetís thin atmosphere.

The airlock hisses as it dials open and Carolyn stumbles through.

I toss her pressure suit out into the rippling blue. It falls through a rising wave of silver bubbles. Not good.

I lunge for the pump controls, and when they retract the hoses too slowly for my liking, I grab both sets of hoses, flamethrower under one arm, the pump hoses under the other arm, and yank them back through the hole.

The hoses flail around me, creating chaos in the small space. I hang on to them grimly as their accordion tubing continues to contract under my arm. With the other hand, I keep the flamethrower pointed at the aperture, bathing the rising bubbles in orange flame. They make no noise as they char and fall, but I can feel them, tiny ripples of pressure that break over me. Smiling at each small pop, I bathe the hole with spurts of flame until it dials closed.

In the resulting stillness, I kick the flamethrower off.

Carolyn.

*

Sheís lying in the corridor, one arm stretched out, her fingers driven into the metal grating of the floor. Her back, ashy and blistered, heaves as I approach her.

I kneel next to her and carefully unlock her fingers from the floor. Her fingers are torn, bleeding. Sheís dragged herself nearly half the length of the ship.

I pick her up as gently as I can, sliding my arms under her shoulders and hips and lifting her face-down. Her weight is distributed all wrong like this, with her arms and legs hanging down. But I canít touch that terribly burned back. My own back seizes as I push upright. Fuck. And sheís not going to be in any condition to rub it for a long time.

I take a step towards our bedroom, where the silver autodoc still hangs over our bed. She whimpers.

"Síokay, Carolyn. I got you."

"The levels, Riddick . . . I need to see the fuel levels."

I eye the distance to the flight deck, still about thirty meters away. A long way to carry her like this. But how can I do any less? How can I fail her a second time? Inhaling hard through my nose, I begin the long walk, one slow step at a time, trying not to jar her.

Iím slick with sweat by the time I reach her flight chair, my back screaming. Shaking salty drops from my eyes, I read the gauge for her through gritted teeth, so she doesnít have to twist her head around.

She shakes her head slightly, freezing in my arms when the movement causes her more pain. "Not enough. We need . . . eighty percent to make the jump."

"Then we circle back and get more."

Her body jerks in my arms and I canít hold her any longer. I ease her down so sheís sitting on the arm of her chair. She makes a tiny sound, half sob, half moan. Her head lolls back, her eyes rolling to white. I catch her, my hands carefully at the small of her back and the nape of her neck, before she falls back into the chair.

"Carolyn, stay with me."

She blinks and looks up at me, eyes fogged with pain. "We need to come in full throttle, the engines burning. That might scare them off."

I glance over at the bewildering array of lights and switches and buttons on the console in front of us. Iíve never flown a star jumper. I donít know where to start. We went over and over the pump procedure, but she never taught me how to maneuver the ship. That was her job. We thought of everything, but not this.

I glance down at her. Her eyes are flickering, rolling and then refocusing as she clings to consciousness.

"Think you can talk me through getting us up to orbit?"

She blinks woozily. "Orbit? Why?"

"Give you some time to recover before we try again." Days. Maybe weeks. Itíll take a while for those burns to heal.

She shakes her head. "I can do this . . . you just man the pumps."

"Carolyn, you couldnít run the autopilot right now."

Her hand rises, even though she hisses with pain, and she pushes her fingers into my chest. "Put me in that chair, Ric-Riddick."

"Only place youíre going is bed."

She pushes again, more forcefully. "I have to pilot us out of the atmosphere. We canít stay here with those things . . . whether I take us straight out or down again first makes no difference. I have to get in that chair either way."

I lean forward and press my mouth to her forehead. So brave, my little Carolyn. Iíve fought with men whoíd have folded under the kind of pain sheís in.

I shift her around into the chair as gently as I can. She grabs the arm-rests and eases herself down. But she canít control a cry of pain when her back brushes the padded seat. A tear streaks down her cheek, and she doesnít brush it away.

"Carolynó"

"Iím okay," she says, but her voice shakes. Sheís holding on by her fingernails again.

I sink down next to her chair, so that Iím at her eye-level. Those expressive eyes will tell me if she can do this.

"Carolyn, look at me."

She does, a crystalline flash. After holding her eyes for a second, I straighten and head back towards the engineering spaces. The tears are of pain, but underneath them is strength, that indomitable spirit of hers. Sheís not going to fail.

Back in the glowing darkness, I feel the ship bank, circling over the water, igniting the bubbles with the enginesí fiery backwash. Her voice in my ears, tight with pain, speaks only my name. Once to start the refueling and once when itís complete. It goes off without a hitch this time, the way it should have the first time, if Iíd been paying attention. Iím still retracting the nozzles when Carolyn fires the engines, slamming us up through the planetís thin atmosphere. Sheís not taking any chances this time.

I stow the pump equipment, throwing the hoses into their compartment. Iíve barely cleared the engine roomís airlock when the ship shudders through the upper atmosphere. The deck under my feet tilts so sharply I have to grab the walls to keep my footing. Then I have to grab the walls again to keep from hitting the ceiling as the artificial gravity cuts out. I donít have much experience in zero-gee, but I know enough to hold on.

I hang parallel to the decking. Sheís bringing us up almost vertical, shooting us up into space like a rocket. I wouldnít have thought an old tug like the Hunter-Grazner could pull off such a maneuver. But Carolyn manages it.

I hang suspended for several minutes. A curious sensation, zero-gee, an almost vertiginous weightlessness. My stomach feels like itís spinning several meters outside my gut. Not a good feeling. I cling to the hand-holds Iíve found and wait for the ship to steady out.

Finally, my feet drop back towards the decking. When my toes touch the gridded floor, I race for the flight deck.

Carolynís unconscious, her body limp in the chair. But the viewer in front of her is filled with the star-studded blackness of deep space. In a smaller screen on the console, the three points of the Brevin pulsar cluster twinkle.

She did it.

I lift her out of the chair as gently as I can, rolling her forward into my arms so I can carry her without touching her back. The movement rouses her. Her hand grips my wrist for a moment, and then falls against my side.

I carry her back through the ship to our bedroom. One slow step at a time. Getting her down onto the bed, trying to bend mostly with my knees, leaves me with a back full of ground glass. But the autodoc is there, and as soon as I slide Carolyn onto the cool sheets under it, a red beam flicks over her. Thin silver arms drop from the silver ball. They cut away her charred flight suit and spray a sticky fluid over her blistered skin. The fluid congeals to a dark reddish crust.

Carolyn sighs in her sleep. Her hands, balled into fists at her sides, straighten. Seeing her relax, a tension I didnít know I carried runs out of me. I carefully remove the rest of her flight suit, peeling it down her arms and legs. Then I pull the sheet up over her. My fingers linger on her bare, uninjured shoulder, stroking her soft skin. Itís a relief to touch her and not see her flinch. I didnít realize how much that bothered me until now.

"Sleep well, sweetheart." I run my hand over her soft head before I leave her to sleep. I want to slide into bed next to her and hold her while she heals. To keep her warm and safe the way I should have from those innocuous-looking bubbles. But being in my arms didnít keep her safe then, and being in my arms now will only cause her more pain if I jostle her in my sleep.

So I rise and walk slowly into the other bedroom.

*

When I wake, the bed is cold and my skin aches with Carolynís absence. My back clamps down tighter than a magnecuff when I try to rise. I have to stretch for a long time before going to check on Carolyn.

Sheís still out for the count. I sit on the edge of her bed and watch her. Her sleep is easy, her face and body completely relaxed.

Watching her, Iím hit again by her beauty. The smoothness of her skin. The clean lines of her body. Itís natural, without artifice. She has no enhancements or augmentations. She wears no makeup or jewelry. Thereís a mole between her eyebrows that Iíve noticed before; itís not disfiguring, but most women wouldíve had it removed. Not Carolyn. Even her clothing is utilitarian.

Carolyn doesnít want to be beautiful. She doesnít want men to notice her. She wants everyone to see cool, androgynous competence. She projects distance. Part of it is that fear that rules her. But thereís something else, too. Some deep wound thatís made her hide behind that veil of professionalism. Sheís buried all passion, all need.

Until she gave herself to me. All that fierce passion, that tender need flooded back to the surface. Sheís held none of it back. But she hasnít revealed the wound. I glimpsed it when she came back to bed after the first time we fucked. That fragile trust in her eyes, so easily broken if I asked the wrong question. So I didnít. But I didnít ask the right one, either. The question that would have opened the wound and drained out the pus still festering there, and let it heal.

I didnít know what the right question was. I donít know what it is now. Reaching out and stroking her hair with just my fingertips so I donít disturb her, I wonder if I have the right to ask it, even if I can figure it out. We're on the way to Brevin, which means that in three weeks or so, we'll have reached my destination. And I'll be getting off this slow train. Back to life on the run. What I know best. And back to life without Carolyn.

Despite my care, she stirs in her sleep. Her face tightens in pain and a silver arm immediately drops from the autodoc. A hypodermic hiss, and she settles. I withdraw my hand. Let her sleep.

I have other things to do. A date to keep with Johns. And while Carolynís out for the count seems like a good time to do this dark piece of work.

*

I stand in front of Johnís pod for a long time, staring at him and remembering. What Iíve settled on doesnít fully satisfy the cold rage that still fills me when I look at him. Iíve had acidic fantasies of reaming him with his own shock baton. Seeing what those two hundred volts do when theyíre shoved up a man's ass instead of applied across his skin.

I want him to suffer the way Annie and the kids suffered.

But after being with Carolyn, after touching her and being touched by her, I donít have the stomach for what Iíd originally planned. Sheís fucking ruining me.

I open the bag Iíve brought from the storage compartment. Finding the specimen bag in the Colonistsí luggage was what gave me the idea. I pop the capsule and wait for the preservative gel inside to warm. Then I reach around and pull the emergency release on Johnís pod. A klaxon sounds and a womanís voice warns me that the release sequence has been activated.

No shit.

I glance down the corridor at the crew tubes. The Captain and First-Mate are still deader than dead. And Carolynís certainly not coming to help Johns.

"So youíre just shit out of luck," I say over the klaxon.

I wait until the podís cover opens. Johns is still unconscious. Heís not really thawed and it will take several minutes for him to come out of hibernation. Time to get to work.

His circulation is still slow, his heart only beating a few times a minute, so thereís not much blood as I slice through the flesh around the second knuckle of his right thumb. Itís the work of another second to snap the joint. His severed thumb falls into the waiting capsule while I spray the oozing stump with newskin. Wouldnít do for him to bleed to death before I freeze him back down.

Johnsí left thumb follows his right. I donít know which thumb contains his credit chip. So Iíll just take them both. I close the specimen capsule and give it a shake to distribute the gel around the severed digits. I donít want them to rot before I can get them to a chop doc and have the chip removed. Johns is cheap enough to have an older model chip that doesnít go dead when the tissue around it dies, but Iím not taking the chance.

I give Johns a pat on the cheek before closing the cover of his cryo-pod. The lights on the side of his pod are going crazy, blinking and flashing in a vain attempt to gain human attention. I push the emergency handle back up and the pod frosts, freezing the merc down.

Thereís no outward sign, no panicked flash of eyes, no silent scream, to show what Iíve done to him. But the lights continue to dance like maddened fireflies, reassuring me that the podís human occupant is going into shock. I give the cold cover a final pat before I tuck the specimen capsule under my arm and turn down the corridor towards the sleeping quarters.

I donít know exactly what will happen to Johns, but Iíve heard stories about interrupted cryo-sleep, and injuries sustained during the interruption. The body canít deal with the shock. Critical systems collapse upon thawing. I hope Johns enjoys life as a vegetable. An eight-fingered vegetable at that.

I put the capsule with the other things Iíve taken from the Colonistsí luggage and slide into bed next to Carolyn.

*

I work my jaw, try to work spit into a mouth thatís gone dry as Kelsinís blowing sand.

"Come with me," I finally say.

Those expressive eyes widen, soften.

"Oh. . ." She smiles and a tear slips out of the corner of her eye. "I didnít think youíd ask." She lays one soft hand against my cheek.

"Thought you wanted me to." I wipe away her tear with my thumb, lick her bodyís salt off my skin.

Her smile lights up the void.

"I did. I do," she whispers. "I canít come with you, though."

My chest tightens until it feels like the entire gravity of the little planet is sitting on my breastbone. What did I expect? That sheíd give up everything Ė her years of hard work and her good job and her nice normal life Ė to go on the run with me because I fuck her just right?

"Yeahó"

Her fingers flex on my face, holding me so she can look right into my eyes.

"I have a responsibility to these people," she says. "To get them back safely. Not to leave them adrift so some salvage team or merc ship can ransom everything they own back to them. Let me take them back. Iíll jump from the Perseus binary to Scavella. Thereís a station there where I can leave them safely. And then Iíll come find you."

I shake my head. "No oneís finding me this time."

She looks up into my eyes. Hers donít flinch. "Trust me. Tell me where youíll be in six months and Iíll meet you there."

"Why six months?" I ask grudgingly.

"Itíll take me two months to get to Scavella. Two more months to get back or go in whatever direction youíre headed. Maybe more if youíre going the other way. And a month for the inquiry. Two dead. One brain-dead. A notorious murderer on the loose. All on my watch. There will be an inquiry. Iíll be lucky to keep my license. Give me six months and Iíll meet you wherever you want."

She could meet me with a ship full of mercs, all fighting to be the one who claps cuffs on me and gets the bragging rights. But I donít think she will. I donít understand what she sees when she looks into my eyes, like she is right now, but I know what I see when I look back. Carolynís expressive eyes. Filled with more warmth and hope than I thought was left in the entire dark, dirty universe. No, she wonít bring anyone. But will she come herself?

"Mackís Planet. Saíleone system. You can make it in three months from Scavella. If youíre coming."

She rises up onto her tiptoes and presses her mouth against mine. "Iím coming. Where? Iíll never be able to find you if youíre in disguise like this."

Is that why she got so grumpy when I showed her the disguise? Because she was afraid she wouldnít be able to find me? Was she going to come after me even if I didnít ask?

"OíMalleyís. Near the spaceport," I say. My voice has gone gruff with some emotion I donít want to think about.

"OíMalleyís," she repeats. "Iíll be there."

I crush her to me and hold her for a long time. Longer than I have. The first sun is rising and I have to get underground before the second one rises and bakes everything on the surface to cinders.

Sheís the one who finally steps back, her hand still on my cheek.

"I love you. Iíll see you in six months." She grins wickedly. "Behave yourself."

She reaches up and flicks the controls of the ramp. I step off it, into the burning sands of Kelsin. My last image of her is her eyes, glowing in the light of the rising suns, as she rides the ramp up into the ship.

*

I wait for her at the bar on Mackís Planet for three weeks.

ĎGive me six months,í she said.

Iíve given her nearly seven. Seven long and lonely months. I was fine with solitude until Carolyn taught me what it is to share time with someone. Fine with buying myself a half-hour of relief when I felt the need for human contact until I made love with Carolyn and learned the meaning of the word. Fine with running without knowing or caring where I was going and never looking back until Carolyn said she loved me and fixed the entire universe around that one point in time and space when Iíd be with her again.

So itís been seven months of waiting. Of counting the days. Of watching the flashes to see if thereís a suggestion of her. But thereís been nothing. Not even a report that Iíve escaped again. I made the "Universeís Most Wanted" within a week of breaking out the last few times. But this time thereís nothing. Just seven long months of wondering whatís happened to her, what sheís told them thatís kept my name out of the news. Seven months of wondering whether sheís changed her mind and gone back to her nice normal life, whether sheís coming after all.

I canít afford to stay on Mackís Planet for much longer. Itís on the opposite end of the Ten-Year Border from Kelsin, but that doesnít mean my face isnít known here. Doesnít mean they arenít looking for me. Mackís Planet is full of criminals like me, but that doesnít mean one of them wouldnít turn me in for the bounty on my head.

Iíve approached a short-hopper about shipping out with him on his next run. Iím not sure what heís more excited about, my muscles to help with the loading or company on the run. Heís going to be disappointed in my conversational skills. The BorderRunner leaves in three days. Iíll be back on Mackís Planet four weeks later. I can only hope I donít miss her during that month. I hope sheíll wait for me.

If sheís coming.

A new ship docks the night before I ship out. I wander down to the spaceport after securing some late-arriving cargo aboard the hopper. Under the huge pseudomuscles I wear as part of my disguise, my shoulders ache from moving containers. I rub one and think about Carolyn and her good backrubs as I make my way through the darkened docks.

The new ship is small, a little battered. The Strange Bedfellows. Another short-hopper. Not the Hunter-Grazner. I curse myself silently. What the fuck did I expect?

The dock-bot lights up when I approach the new ship.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Whereís the Captain?" I ask, cocking a thumb at the ship.

"She went into the Ďport, sir. Can I take a message?"

"No. You know where she went?" I ask because itís become habit, but Iím not really interested. Itís not her.

"Yes, sir. A bar called OíMalleyís."

Now Iím interested. I remember to thank the Ďbot before I turn and run.

*

Sheís sitting at the bar, close to the back exit and slightly turned on her stool so that she can see the whole bar. Good girl. She hasnít forgotten what I taught her.

I know itís her without seeing the clean lines of her face, despite the heavy coat sheís wearing that conceals her body, despite the unfamiliar length and darkness of her hair. I can smell her over the stale stink of the bar. Musk and apples. My Carolyn.

She glances at me when I enter the bar, but my disguise is better than hers, better even than my old one, and she looks away, not meeting my eyes. Then her eyes snap back to me. She looks past the hair and the fake holotattoos that scroll blackly over the tinted white pseudoskin and she knows itís me. A tiny smile tips the edges of her mouth.

She turns back to the bar, turning her profile to me. She says something to the bartender, a battered Ďbot with a silver-studded patch over one robotic eye. The bot slides two glasses of amber liquid onto the bar in front of her.

I settle heavily into the chair next to her. The pseudomuscles over my shoulders and chest and thighs weigh a fucking ton, and they only partially pull their own weight.

"Can I buy you a drink, stranger?" Carolyn asks.

"Depends. What is it?"

"A sloe comfortable screw against the wall."

I grin under the mask of hair.

"If thatís the ladyís pleasure . . ." I trail off suggestively.

Carolyn grins back and sips the drink. "It is."

*

When position her against the wall of my room not an hour later, I see the new scar, reddish in my vision, just to the side of her navel.

"You had it taken out." I stroke the crescent-shaped scar with my thumb.

She looks up from staring at my cock with an expression that I could swear is hungry and smiles. "Yes."

"By a chop-doc."

She nods, but it wasnít a question. No legit doctor would take out her conhibitor without the license her ex never got her. A license I can never get her.

"You really want to do this, Carolyn?"

"Make love with you? Absolutely. I canít tell you how much Iíve missed you." Sheís so eager sheís wriggling against me, trying to work her way down the wall to impale herself on me.

I smile but look down at her seriously. "All of it. Be with me. On the run."

"I love you." She grins at my expression. Iím going to make her say that a lot. "I want to be with you. Whatever that means."

"And if we have a baby?"

"Then weíll be a family on the run."

 

[End]

 

 
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