Chapter 1

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As the hallway bio-bots cleaned the blood from the floor, I checked my crystal. No alarms.  

The tiny energy output from my revolver was much too small to register on the ever-present alarm sensors throughout the orbital station of Melchi Prime. In reality, I would already be dead if the alarm had tripped.

But I always check. 

I shut down the hack and pocketed my crystal. The ancients had been creative, in their backward way. Hand-held metallic frames containing cylinders of explosive powder that propelled little pieces of metal for killing. 

Fascinating.

It certainly made my job easier. I hit the vac button on the airlock and ejected the body into space.

I holstered my revolver and turned back towards Hrny, who was there as my evaluator for the job. Site evaluation was common practice when engaging a contractor for the first time. Activating a personal deflector and holding a blaster on the contractor was not. A blaster that would most definitely trigger the alarms.

He grinned at me through the silver aura. "Nice of you to holster your weapon."

"You thumb that button and we're both dead." I waved my left hand in an expansive, exaggerated gesture towards the sensors lining the hallway. At the same time, I slipped my right hand back down to the handle of my revolver.

Hrny wasn't fooled. Hrny was a professional. His grin grew broader and he nodded towards my hip. "You already holstered it. If you think you can draw, recharge and fire in the time it takes me to thumb the button, then go right ahead."

He wasn't fooled, but he was misinformed. Personal weapons of the last thousand or so years needed at least two seconds to energise when drawn. A safety measure. My revolver had no such measures. The energy in the explosive powder in each of the little metal cylinders was always good to go. The revolver held six of these little charges, and I had only used one. Nor would his personal deflector detect and thus deflect a little piece of metal. Not the little pieces of metal that I was using.

Rather than explain, I demonstrated by drawing my revolver and shooting Hrny in the face. The bastard must have managed to thumb his blaster. White hallway and crimson spray disappeared in a flash of yellow light that dragged me into blackness.

***

As someone who had dealt a lot of pain over the years, some might think that I would have a familiarity with it. Sure, I'd read a lot about it, studied it even. Applied it often. But the truth is that if you are good at delivering pain, you rarely find yourself on the receiving end of it. And I was very good indeed.

My slow swim back to consciousness involved a lot of pain. And puking. I remember puking. And then lying in my puke watching the tiny bio-bots clean it up around me. Before another wave of pain dragged me back into the black.

Once, I surfaced long enough to realise that I was puking on a fibre carpet instead of synthetic floor tiles. Fibre carpets were rare enough to encourage me to try to sit up and have a look around. The movement brought on a fresh wave of pain, puke and blackness. And bio-bots, presumably.

Full consciousness returned with an acrid chemical burn in my nostrils and a sharp jab in my neck. My mouth flooded with a bitterness that made me gag, but I seemed to have run out of puke. I tensed for the inevitable slap. In all the fiction I had ever seen where the hero awoke tied to a chair, someone slapped them. Or punched them. Or kicked them, even, if the fiction was particularly flamboyant. Instead, a warm hand lifted my chin and cold green eyes searched my face. The hand released me and a woman stepped back and into focus. She was pretty, though her mouth was a little hard and those eyes... But that could have been because it was me she was looking at. She held an injector in one hand, which she set down on a large black desk behind her. "He's awake."

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