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A Mule's Choice

By Ben Williams All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Scifi

Chapter 1

Cal looked at the barricaded door before him; saw the console at the centre through which he could announce his presence at the warehouse. The light of a handful of small moons lit the door, not a cloud in the sky to mask the light. Uncomfortably he shuffled the backpack over his shoulder, suddenly finding himself with cold feet. He thought about the road that had led him here, the path that he had followed for far too long.

Grease had been right.

“You don’t need to do this, Cal. There is always another way, always another job.”

The words bounced around in his head and he pondered them. The substance in his backpack felt far heavier than it should have, the weight pulling on his conscience and his morals. Ever since Vell had died on the mule run, every job had felt like more and more of a burden.

Cal relived that day every night when he closed his eyes. As soon as he shut his eyes to the real world, he entered the past world and watched his mistake, his first crew casualty as a captain of his own ship. Vell had insisted on coming with Cal on the job, like he did on every job, insisting on being the wingman. Cal felt an empty space to his right, where Vell would have been right now.

The Frontier’s black market had a much darker side than Cal expected, though no worse than he’d been warned before. Some buyers just didn’t want to pay full price for their goods; some just knew they had too much power. The buyer that night didn’t appreciate Cal’s confidence in wanting full pay, didn’t want to part with his money. Neither party wanted to back down, but the buyer had far more in his arsenal to play with, a far more effective way of getting what he wanted.

As soon as Vell’s body hit the ground, the buyer knew he had Cal cornered, he knew he’d get his goods for whatever price he wanted. Cal may have still been paid half his asking price for the job, but he’d come away one crewman less, one friend less.

Behind this moon lit barricaded door lay another of those lairs, a criminal hideout in a no less scummy area. This world was as Frontier as it came, owned by the remnants of terraformation corporations, one of the enormous terraforming towers in the distance, like a thick pillar that stretched up into the stars. Small towns littered the scenery, such as this one. Cal’s ship was docked in the town’s docking bay, one of only a few, and Cal had headed over to the industrial district on his own, for the first time in a long time.

The industrial sector was filled with dark areas, abandoned factories and dark drinking holes for workers. Then there were the dens where the less noble members of society gathered around the most powerful figures. On a world like this, with no respectable central government save for corporate types in their tower, many of the inhabitants were involved with the black markets to make money. In the Frontier, often it was the only way to make good money. This wasn’t the Republic or the Assembly, Cal often reminded himself to justify his line of work.

Cal had been in countless other dens like the one before him, and had endured a whole variety of situations, the majority of which were harmless and very profitable. There was a lot of money to be made in the Frontier doing this kind of work. Good clean jobs only paid well in the Republic, but even then the money was so much better running these routes in the Frontier.

It paid too well to turn around.

But nevertheless, the door in front of Cal served only to offer up a terrible choice. Cal could make go in there and make the drop, endure a little bit of mockery from a smug crime boss, but emerge with a lot of money. Maybe the crime boss would decide that Cal was easy meat and make threats or take body pieces until he got his way. Or Cal could turn around and walk away, with far less risk, but no money at all.

Grease had said there was always another job, but the jobs he spoke of, they didn’t pay remotely as much as this one did. Cal liked the money, and until recently enjoyed the danger and the adrenaline. Until recently Cal had fed off of the danger, the rush of adrenaline in the line of work. It was like the drugs he supplied to the buyers and dealers, addictive.

But all of a sudden the danger and the adrenaline seemed far more real, far more imminent. Until the incident with Vell, the danger, the money, the adrenaline rush, it had all felt like some kind of game. Cal had felt like the big man, a hero amongst the Frontier, like a true bad-ass. Now… he felt hollow, and for the first time, completely afraid of what lay around the corner. The dangers of the Frontier’s black market were a lot closer to home. He was scared.

Cal looked at the door, and weighed up his options. The choice should have been easy. The danger and the risk of death was high, but with it came the excitement, the rush of adrenaline. He wanted to walk away so much, for Vell, but he craved the varied, novel, complex and intense sensation and the experiences. The drugs he transported didn’t interest him, didn’t tempt him. But the delivery of them? The trail he crossed and the risks he took? They were far more addictive.

The door mocked him, as though taunting him to make a decision. Then the console lit up and on the screen appeared an alien’s face, regarding Cal sceptically.

“Who are you?” The screen alien asked abruptly.

“I’m…” Cal stalled and looked to his side where Vell would have been stood, then glanced at the backpack slung over his shoulder. He could lie to the alien, say he had the wrong address and walk away now. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“One more job, Vell.” He spoke under his breath to the ghost of his friend, and turned to the screen. “I’m Cal Wilson; I’m here to see Yoran.”

“Ah, come in. Don’t try anything funny.” The screen went blank before Cal could respond, and with a creaking grind the door began to slide to one side. It revealed a stepped tunnel down into the hovel and whatever adventure waited for him.

This was his last chance to walk away and turn his back on the mule jobs. Something in the tunnel called to him, summoned him silently, and Cal couldn’t resist. He stepped into the dim tunnel and began to make his way down. The danger and the money was Cal’s drug, he couldn’t fight it. What was one more job? He had a good feeling about this one, he had a feeling it would go well. It was one more job, one more handsome payment. He knew Vell would understand… he was sure he would.

As he descended into the den, Cal simply repeated to himself, “This is the last one, Vell. The money is too good. One more job.

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