An excerpt from Mesh: Book One, out in paperback and ebook
Don’t back down. Don’t back down. Don’t back down.
Cyril Tarsi stood against the wall of the crowded marketplace. A deluge of people pushed by the skinny, five-foot-eight, forty-five-year-old standing in the shadows. Relax and stay focused. It will be over soon.
Cyril checked his thumbnail watch: four minutes to three. Four minutes to occupy his mind while he waited; four minutes to keep from backing out. He tried to remember the Mars time zone correlation to Earth. What time was it in Kingman, Arizona, the dull, hellish place where he hid before shuttling to Mars? What about on Tycho Base, his hideout before Kingman? Or was there another stop in between? Could he even remember all the holes he hid in?
Who cares? Focus, Cyril.
The time-wasting activity quickly lost hold of his mind. He had a job to do, and that’s all he should be thinking about. Two minutes now. Focus, man. Don’t chicken out. Don’t think about it. Do it.
Cyril glowered at the bustling city around him. New Persia was no better than Arizona: hot, dry, boring. The generators pumped in the warm, dusty oxygen in loud bursts, filling the encapsulated settlement like a balloon. Most settlements on Mars were just population run-off. Instead of growing a culture and character of their own, the places were generic, sanitized, cookie-cutter communities, devoid of ideology or convictions, save for one: consumerism—the true binding force of humanity. At least on Earth, the people were allowed to erode their own cultures, not have them handed down, pre-decayed.
Stop bitching. Focus on your job. Focus.
Cyril took one step into the crowd and was absorbed into the flow of traffic. A gray trolley stopped at the corner of the boulevard. He quickened his step, his eyes locked on the trolley door. A behemoth of a man stepped off the car, gazing across the crowded bazaar. Cyril slipped between two pedestrians.
Without looking, he slid a tiny needle out of a synthetic skin patch on his forearm, careful not to prick himself. It will be over in seconds. Move.
For a big bastard, the guy had some speed. Cyril nudged a woman aside, increasing his pace. He moved the needle between his thumb and index finger. It was only three centimeters long and so thin he could bend it, but the juice inside could kill an elephant. His employer insisted he share the formula with him. Not a chance. Cyril had been working for years perfecting the “sting” and his delivery of it. It got him work as a hired killer all over the system until he missed once. Idiot.
Now he was stuck on Mars. He had considered a real job––he was good with his hands and there was plenty of construction work to be had––but no legitimate company could protect him. He had thought of leaving the seemingly ubiquitous confines of the UEA and joining one of the “Auto” factions, but the Autonomous regions were worse than prison camps. Locked out of the UEA’s commerce and protection, they were hives of squalor, the place where anarchists, outcasts, and mental defectives went to die. No, he would make no desperation moves. Not yet.
His corpulent target took a sharp turn, cutting against the crowd. Cyril fought to keep pace, only a yard or so behind him now. The man turned again, moving out of the flow of traffic and between two food kiosks. Cyril hesitated. Was he on to him? Should he abort? No. One jab and you’re done. Finish it.
Cyril moved around the kiosks and came upon the man standing at a building entrance, fumbling in his pockets for a passkey. Perfect. Cyril quickened his pace. A couple walked toward them. Would they notice? If he timed it right…Focus!
The man withdrew his passkey (a few more seconds) and waved it in front of the door (just another moment). A little light above the handle turned green (another step). The man slid the door open as Cyril bumped into him and placed his hand on the man’s lower back, as if bracing himself. “Excuse me.”
The man gasped noticeably (keep moving), undoubtedly sensing the tiny pinch in his back like someone plucked out a hair. Cyril wanted to turn around (no); he wanted to witness his handiwork (and end your career), but he resisted the temptation (run).
In his mind’s eye, he could observe the whole scene unfolding: the rotund gentleman rubs his back and glares in Cyril’s direction. He takes a few steps into the building, dismissing the pinprick as nothing, a phantom pain. A few more steps into the building, he perceives a sudden increase in body temperature. Sweat coats his back, chest, and forehead; beads form on his upper lip. A numb sensation swarms his left hand, rising through his arm. A heart attack? His tongue swells, choking off any cries for help. His vision blurs and tears stream down his reddening face. He tries to run to someone, to pantomime for help, but his legs feel like lead. Sharp muscle twinges drive him to his knees; his arms flail uselessly at anything in reach. In rapid succession, his vision fails, his jaw seizes shut (possibly severing his swollen tongue), and his bowels vacate. His final moments are spent on the floor, thrashing and gasping like a fish on hot asphalt. Then it is over.
Cyril didn’t smile at the mental image. He didn’t enjoy the killing, but he was proud of his efficient work. He was proud that he always hit his target and his target only. There was no collateral damage. There was no swath of destruction or security lockdown. Cyril’s targets rarely dented the news cycle, maybe showing up as a blurb and an obituary. His employers appreciated this quality and they paid handsomely for it.
A shove from behind snapped Cyril out of his self-congratulatory haze. He tried to turn but a vice-like grip kept his neck stiff. “Don’t look back, Tarsi. Just move for the van.” They knew his name. Who? Who knows my name? Parked at the street corner a few yards ahead was a blue cargo van. The tinted windows masked its occupants. Run. Run!
An abrupt wiggle freed Cyril from his ambusher’s grasp. Before he could take a second step, two more sets of hands grabbed his arms. Cyril’s eyes darted between the towering musclemen who flanked him. Both kept their eyes straight ahead. “Relax, Tarsi. No reason to run. Just get in the vehicle,” a voice behind him whispered.