Harder to let her go than I’d like to admit to myself. If I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have let her go at all. Just have to settle for the smell of her on me, until I see her later. Right now, I have to find Franks. I keep coming back to this thing with Dufresne. It’s not just a matter of us competing for Jane’s affections. This is something else.
“You busy, Franks?”
I didn’t need to knock. Franks spent even more time in Slam than I did. There’s not much he misses. Sure, technically he was a doctor, but he never got to leave, and he had to live with the rest of us. Just got a bit of protection, because the rest of us needed him in order to survive. His head was up, aware of me, before I even got into the doorway.
He’s bandaging a guy’s arm, so he just nods his head at a chair, and I wait, until the guy’s gone. Wait until Franks closes the door, turning the lights down for me.
“Thanks.” Most places on this ship are kept pretty dark. Not as dark as I’d like, but at least not so bright that it hurts. Civilian types probably get pretty nervous about a doc patching you up in the dark though. He doesn’t ask me what’s on my mind. Knows something’s bothering me, and is waiting for me to spill it. I’ve known him over twenty years. Some things never change.
“Dufresne.” No surprise.
“Pretty clear you don’t like him. Is liking her clouding the issue?”
Blunt. Not trying to piss me off. We’ve just known each other too long to play word games with each other.
“If anything, liking her is making it clearer for me. He doesn’t want her that way. It’s something else. How long has he known her?”
“I couldn’t say for sure. She’s been here for a little over five years. Disappeared after a delivery, and he came back with her, damn near beaten to death. I’ve never seen anyone so badly beaten, ever. I’d say most of the scars she carries now, she got then. That was about four years ago.”
“Disappears after a delivery, and he just happens to show up with her, huh?” He doesn’t bother answering that. Wasn’t really a question anyways.
“Does Dufresne set up a lot of those deliveries?” He’s looking at me hard at that one. No answer, just a nod.
“She says she doesn’t do merc runs. I doubt she’d want to be anywhere near a military prison ship. And yet, he sends her on exactly that sort of run, without telling her either what she’s picking up, or where she’s going. He could claim he didn’t know either, but that sounds a little too convenient to me.”
“He couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t just kill those mercs. She has a habit of doing that.”
He’s grinning at me, at that. “There was supposed to be four mercs. One of them a real bad ass. Knew who she was, into the bargain and tried to scare her into going along.” His grin got wider at that. Jane doesn’t scare easy. “And maybe he was hoping I’d be a bigger problem. For HER. I helped set up those kills. I don’t think he was expecting that.”
“So you see it as a way to deliver both of you to Epsilon 4?”
“I think it was a set up. Probably would have had a nice little welcoming committee for her when she showed up. Definitely had something set up. When she radio’d in, for you, we had two fighters on our asses almost immediately.” He didn’t know about the dogfight, neither one of us having mentioned it.
“Dufresne would have had your exact location, and the route she intended to take.”
“Exactly. Does she trust him?”
“I don’t know, to be honest. She’s got a nose for Company. She force marched a guy out into the loading bay once, and blew his head off, just on the suspicion. Does she trust Dufresne? I don’t know. I do know that if he hadn’t of brought her here, that she would have died.”
“Never mind that he might have been part of what happened to her.”
“True. But it might be giving her a blind spot where he’s concerned.”
“Probably arranged that way, or why bring her back here at all.”
“Jane’s not soft, but it would be a way to get close to her. You can’t keep everybody out, forever.”
That really pisses me off. That someone would hurt her like that. Nearly kill her, just to try to get something out of her.
“What does he want her for, Franks.” He’s hesitating. Protecting her again, wondering how much he should say. “You know me, Franks. You know I’m not in on whatever’s being done to her. You know I wouldn’t hurt her.” Another hard look, before he nods.
“We’ve spoken before, about what the Company had you do.”
That would have been years ago. I doubt the Company’s gotten any cleaner since then. “Her nightmares.”
“When the Company first started calling the shots in the military, Jane was one of the first to question it. Her family’s been military forever. What the Company wanted done wasn’t her military. Hell, it wasn’t even war. You know yourself the kinds of things they had her do.”
“Atrocities. Was, I believe, the word used.”
“At first she just pushed herself almost to death. She’d take every dangerous mission. Said she hated it when she kept making it back alive. It almost broke her. A deathwish.”
I don’t like the idea of her being driven to that, but she must have one hell of a survival instinct to push that hard and still not be able to kill herself. That’s admirable.
“That’s when she decided to get film. She filmed every run. Everything. All of it. Kept every order.”
“She has all of this recorded somewhere?”
“It’s the only thing that’s kept her alive, Riddick. The fact that the Company knows what she’s got, doesn’t know where she’s keeping it, and knows that, if she dies, all of it is going to come out.”
“Which is why she was brought here, still alive. Couldn’t afford to actually kill her, not without finding out what she’s got, and where she’s got it.”
“If she dies, she’ll bring the whole Company down with her. The Company’s been pretty careful about trying to grab her, after the last time. Their headshrinkers are pretty sure that if it came down to deciding whether to kill herself, or let the Company get their hands on what she has, that she would kill herself, rather than let the Company off the hook. So they’ve been playing carefully. I don’t know whether Dufresne is Company or not, but I don’t trust him either.”
“Is she safe here?”
“She’s pulled quite a few people here out of a serious world of hurt, but, to keep it to a definite few, there’s me, Big Johnson, Small Johnson. And you, of course.”
“She’s probably pretty safe on the Decatur, then, with so many people watching her back Which is why he planned the run on Outpost 17.”
“Agreed. When it happens, I don’t think it will happen here. You’re the unknown here. I don’t think he expected her to come back with you. Probably thought she was going to bring back some injured merc. Although, if he knew her half as well as he thinks he does, he would have known better than to think she’d just injure a merc. But he didn’t expect you. He’s spent years trying to get close to her, and is probably pretty pissed off that you already are.”
I’m used to people making assumptions about me. Used to using it too, when I have to. Dufresne most likely knew exactly what ‘cargo’ Jane was to carry. Made his assumptions about what I would or wouldn’t do to Jane, and figured no sane woman would ever cut me loose. Probably made more than a few assumptions about Jane. Assumptions based on her being a woman, rather than on her being Jane. Another woman might have looked to the mercs to protect her against someone she saw as a bigger threat to her safety. Me.
I’m guessing he never figured on her coming back with me. Never figured on me liking her, for that matter. He doesn’t look at her that way. Now he’s got to worry about me too.
“I don’t know when he’ll make his move, Franks, but this last run seemed a little desperate.”
“I’ll be watching, Riddick, and I’ll be ready when it happens. Just say the word.”
He’s looking down again, his voice quiet, when he starts talking again.
“Jane’s not as strong as she looks, Riddick. She’s still a woman, no matter what’s been done to her. Don’t hurt her.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.” That hard look again, before I get up to leave. “I won’t hurt her, Franks.”
I won’t leave her alone, and I won’t break her heart.
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