Chapter 1

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Olan peered down through the skylight at the man he was going to kill.

Jep Crason, of moderate wealth and slightly above average power, was a board member at SedTec, a research and development firm. Olan's career had started with SedTec, in a way, twenty years ago. A part of him found it fitting that his last job would be to off one of their employees.

He'd done some brief research to see if he could find dirt on Crason—fraud or embezzlement or even philandering. It always interested him to know what it was that had spurred the hit. All he'd found on this guy was a long history of voting "No" at board meetings on every attempt by SedTec to open new testing facilities. It seemed it didn't take much.

Crason was roughly Olan's height—which made things easier—balding, and a bit portly. He sat tapping at a computer terminal, pausing to scratch his head every so often.

Olan remembered a time when he would have been pacing on that rooftop trying to psych himself up for the kill. Now it was just another thing he had to do to get by. A job. People die all the time, he thought. Olan would die too, likely sooner than most. It was just how the world worked; life fed on life. Death sells, and there's always someone buying.

He had to get to work.

Olan pressed a suction cup onto the skylight and slid the nanocutter out from a compartment in his right ring finger. It made a soft, high-pitched whine as he touched it to the glass.

Gusts of wind ruffled Olan's blond hair and snapped his maintenance jacket back and forth as he moved the cutter slowly along the pane. Olan felt a brief spot of envy for his victim; living in Olympus City—the capital of Mars—on the top floor, above all the traffic and smog with a clear view of the stars was no cheap thing. He wondered if Crason ever looked up to enjoy them.

Olan completed the cut and lifted the suction cup. The glass came out with the slightest scrape that made his heart pound like a machine gun. Crason didn't move.

The maintenance bag Olan carried as part of his disguise held a thin rope and a needle with a pressure pouch, his own design. The needle was made of bone, the pouch a soft leather. He held the needle so that it extended from between his ring and middle fingers, and the pouch rested in his palm. The nanobots in Jep Crason's bloodstream would be no match for the poison; Olan had seen Crason's medical records. He zipped up the bag and tied one end of the rope around the handle, then stood and dropped through the hole.

He landed directly behind Crason with the silent balance of a cat. Two steps forward and he slammed the needle into Crason's neck, squeezing his fist to inject the poison. Crason went stiff, dead before he could gasp.

Olan slid out the needle, carefully sticking an adhesive over the wound before any blood could leak out, then laid the man on the ground. And just like that, it was done. Simple, in the way that most kills were—but, this wasn't most kills.

This was his last job.

His stomach flipped with excitement, but the work wasn't done yet.

He stripped Crason, folding his clothes into a neat pile before dragging him to the bathroom and rolling him into the wide, jetted tub. He rubbed his face and tried to calm his nerves, then leaned over and pricked the body with a needle that extended and retracted back into his pointer finger in a flash.

Back at the skylight, he snatched the rope and pulled his bag down through the hole. It landed beside him with a soft thud, and he zipped it open to take out a pair of aluminum gloves that crinkled as he put them on. The vial he took out next sloshed with a murky, brown liquid. The vial was a large part of his expenses for each job, but when he did something, he wanted to do it right. Even murder.

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