Blackmail

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Charlie couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and every few moments he was fighting back the urge to vomit.

“Then it’s settled,” Jamal, the leader of the junkers, said. “We’re going deeper.”

Charlie fought off a groan from the sudden turning of his stomach. He’d never felt right about this damn ship, and seeing Richard’s face get eaten, and then Richard do the same to Colin, was enough to make him question why he’d ever joined this stupid crew to begin with. He could have been a janitor or been one of those guys who drove a planet’s garbage into the nearest star, but he’d decided he just had to do something ‘exciting’ and ‘dangerous’, preferably something that had the potential of a big payday every once in a while.

“I still don’t feel great about this,” one of the other crewmembers said. There were almost twenty total left, and the vote had been close. She’d been one of the more vocal against it.

“We voted, and Jamal’s decided,” Ameka said. Charlie respected her, but also hated her. It was easy to be confident when you had the years off-planet that she did, and it was easy to risk everyone else when you’d been a junker near as long. At a certain point, you stopped caring about anything other than finishing the scavenge and finding something you could sell.

Jamal shrugged. “You can stay up here if you want, but don’t come crying to me when one of those things pops around the corner and eats you.” Turned out Charlie hated him as much as Ameka.

“You’re being so fuckin greedy, you know that?” Rose said beside Charlie. She’d been on the crew almost as long as Bernhardt and Ameka and seeing her doubts about it all was enough to give his stomach another turn.

“Actually, no,” Bernhardt said. “These things killed two of our crew, and who knows how many more people on this ship. They need to be exterminated. I don’t care if we leave this hull with nothing at all, so long as the next crew that pops in here doesn’t get eaten.”

“Let’s not be hasty,” Ameka said with a smile. “They could have come from the asteroid, but I’m pretty certain these things were the ship’s cargo. It’s not the typical loot and boot, but if we find any record of these things in Biodyne’s archives we can blackmail them into giving us whatever we want. So yes, maybe it is a little greedy. I’ve been called worse.”

Blackmail. That’s all they cared about. Money. The score. He couldn’t believe he was on this crew, but he’d be damned if he was going to stay above deck with what remained of Charlie and Colin, just waiting for the next bunny to hop around the corner.

Charlie could tell Jamal liked the sound of that. His crew leader nodded, hand flexing on the grip of his gun, and when Rose did not respond, he grinned. “We kill. We make money. We save the day. What’s not to love?”

There was a squeak and a clink down the hall and the whole group fell to silence.

Jamal locked eyes with Ameka and Bernhardt before the three of them ventured a few steps away to get a better look. Charlie’s stomach was about to burst, and his head was pounding. He was never cutout for this.

“Door opened,” Ameka said, almost like it was a question. She looked back at the group. “Everyone’s here, right?”

Glances around. Everyone but Richard and Colin.

Jamal slapped her on the shoulder and took a step toward the sound. “The ship wants us to go in. We can’t leave it waiting.”

Ameka and Bernhardt laughed and fell in step behind him. The rest of the crew filed in after, with Charlie, Rose, and a few of the others in the rear.

His stomach sloshed with every step, most likely all that water he’d drank to calm down after Richard popped Colin’s head off.

Most likely.

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