Ben Jonjak’s story Threshold holds the honor of being the first original story accepted by Space Westerns. All we can really say about it is... he had us at “Uranium miners”. — ed. N.E. Lilly

Darrent knew right away she was going to be a problem. He’d been keeping the company of Uranium miners for too long, they came in all sweaty and desperate. She was a marked change from that. Lean body, short skirt—she would have turned heads anywhere, but out there in the threshold she was coming close to breaking necks. Pickings were slim. The twin dwarf stars made for plenty of heavy elements, but not much else. It was the kind of place you ended up as a last resort. At least people didn’t ask too many questions.

“Are you him?” she said shrewdly.

So much for anonymity.

He sighed in annoyance. The voice was rough and innocent all at the same time, kind of beautiful in its mixed melody.

She wasn’t as tough as she was pretending to be, that much was obvious. Still, girls like that tended to send him spinning. He gripped his drink like a lifeline.

“Depends on who ‘he’ is?” he responded finally.

Darrent knew what she was talking about, he just wanted to see how she’d handle a little difficulty.

“I was told there was a man at this bar who could solve problems.”

He shook his glass. The ice rattled against the whisky.

“Well I don’t see a guy like that, plenty of problems though, like the fact that my drink is almost empty.”

She nodded to the bartender and sat down next to him. Her skirt slid up as she took her seat giving him an eye-full he wouldn’t soon forget. She noticed him looking because he lingered. She spun around without comment, he didn’t offer one either.

The barman set down two glasses. That was a fine start.

She sipped. Pulled out a credit disk and set it on the bar.

“Some might say such a thing is a little incriminating,” Darrent said nodding coolly at the slender, circular card.

“In some places maybe, but not here.”

She threw back the rest of her drink without a wince and slipped off her seat. She then fixed him with a firm gaze that aroused him even more than the way she handled her liquor, and that was saying something.

“The specs are on the disk along with two grand. You get another two when the job’s done.”

“The specs are on the disk along with two grand. You get another two when the job’s done. You’ll also find my name and number.”

“Can’t you just tell me now?”

She shook her head slow and teasingly. “It’s all part of the job.”

“Everything strictly professional?” he asked, his eyebrow curling up.

“Yeah, well, you can turn the whole four back over to me if you want your universe to explode. But we’ll talk about that after.”

She spun and strutted out of the bar. His eyes were on her the whole way. She knew it. There was no reason for her to turn around to verify.

The disk sat on the table for a long time. It stared at him as he finished his drink and he stared back hard, but he knew who was going to win this contest.

“Shit,” he said as he took his last draught and snatched the disk up off the greasy surface and into his leather coat.

It was a set-up. It had to be. They’d never send a woman like that for a job like this otherwise. But he didn’t care, he didn’t have much to live for so why not go after a risk like her?

Somebody was getting played. If it was supposed to be him, that just made it easier to skip the gig on a free half salary. A disk like the one she’d handed him was hard to track.

But damn, she was something else. He slipped the slender circlet into his mini-player and scanned the information. The money was there, but that meant nothing to him. It was the name he was after.

Alicia.

Dangerous.

She was already playing, now he wanted to play too.

He smiled contentedly and chomped on his cigar.

There was another name amongst the papers and a picture, but he didn’t need it. He’d recognized the name. John Emmerson, newly promoted. Navy guy, there to clean up the threshold. He’d already been shooting his mouth off back planet side and as a result his name had reached the deadbeats before he’d had time to make his first arrest.

Stupid punk, he’d already blown his biggest advantage.

“Oh my sweet Alicia, what kind of nonsense are you getting yourself into?”

The kingpins always took a shot at buying these newbies off.

Then they called Darrent.

He laughed.

“Oh my sweet Alicia, what kind of nonsense are you getting yourself into?”

He had all he needed, so he slipped into his cylinder. There were few pilots skilled enough or crazy enough to run the gravity wave between the two dwarfs. You had to do the whole thing on touch, one false move and you were pulled down into a vortex neither God or Isaac Newton could have saved you from. For that reason, the navy base at the artificially stabilized center thought they were safe.

No further checkpoints.

They didn’t even stand watch.

The cylinder started to shudder and Darrent nodded glumly. For a ride like this, he preferred to be drunk, and to be concentrating on other things. His hands worked the controls absently as he reflected to himself.

John Emmerson.

Pledging his war on corruption.

It’d all end tonight.

The ship stabilized. He was through.

It was easy to pick out Emmerson’s ship among the rif-raff. They all got scratched up from teleporting in. His was nearly untouched.

He pulled up alongside and melted a hole in the wall. That was the standard way. But it was noisy. He sat in his cylinder and had a look into the commons hall. The fringes of his incision cooled spitefully.

Somebody turned on a light in an adjoining hallway and a silhouetted figure appeared. Darrent wanted to snort.

“That was a mistake,” he said in a loud voice. “You just highlighted yourself and destroyed your night vision all with one quick flick.”

A beam shot from Darrent’s hand to the shadowy figure. A detention field enveloped him. What were they teaching their cadets these days?

“Who are you?”

There was a bit of grit in the voice and that impressed Darrent. There was a tremble too, though that was reasonable enough.

“I just stopped by because I couldn’t get an appointment.”

Emmerson scowled but Darrent waved all that away.

“Sit, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”

The command was whispered into a small microphone and Emmerson had to obey, the beam made sure of that.

Darrent gave a quick look around the room. A picture caught his eye, he lingered on it for a moment before turning back to the young captain.

The picture changed things. But all wasn’t lost, he could still make this worth his while. It was going to take some scheming now though.

“Indeed, it’s looking to be a very long night.”

The phone rang several times in its distant, watery loneliness before she picked it up. Same raggedy voice, this time tired from sleep.

“Hello?”

“It’s done. I want to collect.”

“In the morning, I...”

“Now. Or else. Murphy’s, room 12 upstairs.”

The phone came crashing down.

Murphy’s was built for meetings like this, it was probably ninety percent of the revenue. The room couldn’t have been worse. They’d tiled the floors over completely because they’d gotten so tired of trying to mop the blood up. Looking around, Darrent wondered if anybody’d ever slept the full night there. Still alive anyway.

About a half hour later, there was a knock. She stepped in twice as beautiful as before, his chest ached.

“Can you prove it?”

He dropped a ring on the nightstand. A navy ring, most recent class. Bloody.

She picked it up without flinching and gazed at the engraving.

“Well, Mr. Darrent, it seems you’ve completed your contract.”

“John Emmerson,” she read smiling.

She was gloating! Damn if he didn’t get an electric chill out of that.

“Well, Mr. Darrent, it seems you’ve completed your contract.”

She reached into her jacket for another disk. She had only a nightgown underneath, silken, white, beautiful. He reached out to stop her.

“I’m taking door number two.” he said gruffly, and handed back the first disk.

She smiled.

“Very well.”

His world exploded.

Forty minutes later he was laying in bed unconscious when the door swung open. A couple ensigns had them in a stasis field almost instantly. Alicia was still handcuffed to the bed. It’d been her idea.

But now she started screaming on cue.

“Help, he raped me, he’s an animal.”

Darrent rubbed his head. The navy men stepped forward. It was dark in the room and light in the hallway, they were silhouetted, but it was hard to make out their faces.

“He bragged about killing John Emmerson,” she yelled, “he’s got his ring! He’s an animal!”

“Then he’s a liar!” said a voice.

Alicia went white.

John Emmerson entered the room. He looked down at her with an expression of extreme sadness.

“Alicia, how’d it come to this?”

“You bastard, you bastard,” she cried.

Darrent chuckled to himself. He tossed a framed picture on the bed, it was a picture of Alicia and John Emmerson posing together in happier times. The glass was broken.

Alicia cringed as she saw it.

“This is all getting a little too personal for me. Do you mind if I take my leave?” Darrent asked slyly.

John Emmerson nodded slowly. Whatever feelings of betrayal he was going through at that moment were beyond Darrent’s comprehension. He’d always paid cash and never seen them in the morning afterwards.

“Good alibi Alicia. What were you going to say, you were abducted and raped?”

Darrent stopped at the nightstand and picked up the disk she had given him at their first meeting and then new one she had brought earlier that night.

“And then you would have been left with everything free and clear.”

She spit and squirmed in the handcuffs, the stasis field allowed her that much.

Darrent went for the door.

“Hey,” John Emmerson belted, and Darrent turned to absorb his stern look. “Don’t expect any free passes after tonight. And don’t think we won’t maintain a regular perimeter out on the threshold from now on.”

Darrent nodded, but he decided it wasn’t worth pushing his luck with any smart talk. If the Captain got to thinking about it too seriously he might tap into the explosive, righteous anger he should deservedly be feeling. Darrent wanted no part of that, he had money in his pocket, the scent of woman on his body, and the hallway full of navy men was parting before him like the red sea.

Usually he was the one who did the parting.

He stepped outside and they regarded him with the rage of a fisherman contemplating a lost marlin.

“Good morning gentlemen,” he smiled, “what, no workout for me today? I guess I’ll have to go to the gym.”

One of the ensigns lunged at him but an older sergeant pulled him back.

Now Darrent laughed, he’d see them soon enough to finish it. He’d see them back out on the threshold.

Ben Jonjak Ben Jonjak After getting a degree in Literature from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, Ben split the country and went to live in Lima, Peru. He currently resides there and keeps in touch with the writing community through the internet on sites such as www.editred.com. His writing has appeared in various print and electronic media.

If this is your first time here, here are some things you might like to do:

  • Join our e-mail newsletter
  • Subscribe to our rss newsfeed
  • Subscribe to our podCast
  • Digg/Share:
  • myspace.com/spacewesterns
  • Livejournal: nelilly