Iapetus Shift update

It is very near! The editing is finished and ready to go, and cover art is in the works!

I expect it will be ‘on the shelves’ sometime next month. I am so excited to finally push the ‘publish’ button and send it out into the world. It’s been almost four years since I finished the first draft, and it’s a crazy feeling to finally be done with it. I look forward greatly to having you all read it!

In anticipation of next month, here is a taste of what’s to come. The first few pages of Iapetus Shift!

Keep an eye out for the release to read more!

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.

In a matter of days, the rest of his payment would come through and he’d finally have enough for the upgraded nanobots. Then he wouldn’t have to constantly pay for medication.

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.

He remembered when he’d just robbed people—people with so much money, they wouldn’t even have to change their lifestyle afterwards. But the price of the medication rose faster than he could find bankrolls to swipe. The Olan of those days would have been sick to think about what present Olan was about to do with the vial in his hands. Now, his guilt had been worn down like the sole of an old boot.

Desperation could change anyone. His accounts swelled after his first murder, and there was no turning back.

He disrobed, tossing the maintenance clothes—made of all-organic materials like wool and cotton—into the tub with Crason’s naked body, along with the bone needle and leather pouch. Then he threw in the maintenance bag and the rope and splashed it all with the brown fluid from the vial. The tub sounded like a pit of spitting vipers as he rinsed the vial in the sink.

He closed the door to the bathroom and focused. In a few minutes, he could wash what remained of the evidence down the drain.

A brief message projected on his electronic contact lenses let him know that the DNA he’d taken from Crason’s body was done being analyzed. Olan slipped carefully into Crason’s clothes. They hung loose on his wiry frame. He then sat down with his back to a corner that let him see the whole room.

He never got used to this part.

Olan let out a long breath and activated the program latticed throughout his epidermis, keying it to Crason’s DNA.

The pain lurched through his body like a seizure. His skin convulsed and rippled as his cells reacted to their new instructions. He clenched his teeth, fighting not to scream. His vision blurred as his eyes adjusted their shape to compensate for the shifting structure of his face. Once the process was done, he’d be able to walk out as Crason and vanish. Crason would be a missing person for days before anyone thought of murder.

Pounding on the front door sent him springing to his feet, the skin on his legs screeching at him in protest. There was no way he was ready to be seen yet.

The knocking continued, and Olan heaved himself into the bathroom. He turned the shower on the brown puddle that remained in the tub, then looked in the mirror. His face drooped and twitched, slowly tightening and shifting into place. Maybe they would leave. Maybe they would hear the shower and go away.

Slam! The front door cracked, echoing through the room.

Olan dove to the tub. The running water had washed away the sludge that was left of Jep Crason, but his mechanical enhancements remained—evidence of his death. Olan scooped the pieces out and tossed them one by one into the small trash can near the toilet. A high-efficiency stomach, liver, bifocal eyes—

The door crashed open, and Olan heard the pounding footsteps of several men. “Mr. Crason?” someone shouted. “Are you alright?”

Olan narrowed his eyes. Why would anyone suspect that Crason wasn’t alright? Something was wrong. If Crason had been fitted with a LifeMonitor, these could be paramedics. A LifeMonitor would send an emergency signal if it detected the wearer was in medical trouble, and a stopped heart would be plenty. But Olan hadn’t seen one in the tub, and there wasn’t one on his medical record. They were small things though . . . it may have washed down the drain.

It dawned on him that he’d been able to furrow his brow, and he looked to the mirror again. His face had settled down. It was still too thin and not the right skin tone yet, but it could pass as Jep. He could pull it off. His vocal cords convulsed for a moment as he triggered the program he’d made from months’ worth of Crason’s phone conversations downloaded from the tele-company’s servers.

“I’m alright,” he called weakly in Jep’s voice. “I think I might have had a heart attack.” He hunched his shoulders and leaned forward, letting the shirt hang down and hide his lack of a gut. He mussed what little hair he had, splashed some water in his eyes and opened the door.

“Oh no,” he said, gesturing feebly. “You didn’t have to go smashing things apart, did you?” He sized up the four men standing in the room. He didn’t see weapons but knew they were armed; it was in the way they held themselves, where their hands lay at their sides. And the way their eyes darted over entry and exit points told him they were cops.

“Mr. Crason, are you sure you’re okay?”

Olan knew that one was the leader. His face was haggard but strong, and his hard, grey eyes bored into Olan; he fought to hold on to confidence in his charade.

“I suppose my LifeMonitor must have given some kind of signal,” he said, rubbing his chest and hoping the gamble would pay off. He had no idea what had brought these cops here. “But as you can see, I’m feeling better now.”

Olan did some exit-scanning of his own. He glanced at the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city. Thick Plexiglas—no way he’d break it. The skylight, which he avoided looking up at, might be low enough for him to jump and grab if he stepped off the shoulder of one of the cops, but he’d surely be shot before he could pull himself up. That left the now broken-in front door.

“Yes, we got the emergency signal,” said the leader with a concern Olan could tell was feigned. “Are you sure you’re alright? We should take you to be examined.” That one knew something was up. Olan accepted that he would not be fooling him and shifted his perspective.

“Yes, yes,” Olan said, coughing. “Maybe that is a good idea, but in a moment. I should catch my breath.” He hobbled toward the four policemen, all in drab plainclothes—simple jackets and button-up shirts. The leader wore a grey, wool cap pulled down around his ears, but otherwise they might as well have been wearing matching uniforms.

As he edged his way toward the door, they shifted to block him. He picked the youngest-looking face and stuck a hand toward what he hoped was a rookie. “Well, as you seem to know, I’m Jep. Nice to meet you, would you like a drink?”

Months of training were overcome by culturally ingrained impulses, and the young cop took Olan’s hand.

Olan jerked the rookie toward him, at the same time stepping forward and behind him. He lifted the cop’s arm up and pressed it into his back. Olan heard the pop of the shoulder dislocating. The rookie screamed. Olan shoved him toward the other three cops now drawing their weapons and darted through the broken door.

He sprinted for two seconds before he felt the sting in the back of his neck and heard the signal from his nanobots, warning him that he’d been injured. He reached back to brush away the dart and chanced a glance backward. The leader stood in the hall, weapon raised. Olan spared a moment to be impressed at the man’s shooting, then dodged around a corner into the stairwell. He tossed the dart to the ground, unworried. He didn’t know of any tranquilizer on the market that his nanobots couldn’t neutralize, and cops weren’t known to use poisons.

Olan leaped over the steps, touching down on the landing then turning to leap down the next flight. He was confident he’d outrun an elevator this way, and he wasn’t even breaking a sweat.

Six flights down, twenty more till the mall level.

Thoughts spun as he bounded down and down. Had Jep somehow gotten a LifeMonitor without it going into his records? It didn’t seem likely, but then why had the cops pretended to get a nonexistent signal from it?  Thirteen flights. He scrolled through his cache of stolen DNA and selected a never-used profile he’d been saving for an emergency. At twenty flights he triggered it and slowed to a jog as the pain kicked in.

By the time he reached the mall level, he was straightening his new, thick, black hair and exiting the stairway into a crowded clothing store with a calm smile.

He snagged a pair of omni-size slacks and a white, stretch-to-fit T-shirt from the racks and paid for them with his clean account, then ducked into a restroom to change. He stuffed Jep’s clothes in the hand-towel recycler and returned to the bustling mall a new man.

Olan walked slowly, letting busy passersby jostle him around as his heart found its normal pace. The rush was over; there was no way they could know what floor he’d gone to, or any way they could recognize him. In a few days, the transaction would be complete, and his payment for the death of Crason would come through. Then he would be well and truly free. But even so, he no longer felt safe in this city.

His contact list appeared at his mental command, projected against his eyes, visible only to him. He scrolled through till he reached Estha and composed a text to her.

Pack up, we’re moving on.

When she got the message, she’d collect all their gear and clean the small apartment on Kepler Street, in the slums of Olympus City, of any evidence they’d been staying there. Then in the next city, maybe they could even go back to doing easy robberies. She was always unhappy with him taking kill jobs, though her worry for his health outweighed her objections in the end.

He touched the back of his neck. The wound had long since been patched up, which, he now saw, he’d been notified of—just like he’d been notified of the injury itself. But he hadn’t been notified of any neutralized tranquilizer or poisons.

A ball of ice formed in his gut.

If the dart hadn’t been carrying a tranq or poison, then—

“Don’t move, hands up, please.” The voice behind him was a familiar one.


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