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Douglas E. Richards

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Douglas E. Richards

Published by Paragon Press, 2011


ISBN: 978-0-9826184-8-6

All rights reserved. With the exception of excerpts for review purposes, no part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.

First Edition


Douglas E. Richards is the author of a science fiction series that has won rave reviews in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Kirkus, School Library Journal, Odyssey Magazine, and numerous others. In 2010, in recognition of his work, he was selected to be a “special guest” at San Diego Comic-Con International, along with such icons as Stan Lee, Ray Bradbury, and Rick Riordan. Douglas has a master’s degree in molecular biology and has authored a wide variety of popular science pieces for National Geographic, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Earth and Sky, Today’s Parent, and many others.

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosopher (1844-1900)


Bill Callan extended his silenced Ruger .45 and crept soundlessly toward the woman calling herself Pamela Saeks. She was seated at an old wooden desk with her back to him, busily manipulating an expensive laptop computer. She was undeniably cute, reflected Callan, not for the first time. But he liked his women on the sleazy side, and her look was too wholesome for his taste—even though her appearance was probably the only thing wholesome about her. And she was too smart for his liking as well. Far too smart.

Her driver’s license pegged her at twenty-seven, but she looked younger, as if she had just finished college. Except for her eyes. There was a maturity there, a street savvy, far beyond her actual age or appearance that suggested this soft-looking girl had seen her share of hard times.

Why did she need to hire two mercenaries to protect her? Not bodyguards, but mercenaries. And how was she able to afford them without any visible means of support? She had fed them a story about having been the girlfriend of a mobster who wasn’t prepared to let her go, but Callan hadn’t bought it for a second. So he had made a study of her. And sure enough, his investigation had hit pay dirt. Pay dirt far richer than he could ever have imagined.

The girl was so engrossed in the computer she was completely oblivious to Callan’s approach. He cleared his throat and she spun around, startled. “Oh,” she said in relief, noticing it was him, but her relief was short-lived as she saw the gun pointed at her, ominously fitted with a silencer. “What’s going on, Bill?” she said anxiously. And while she kept her face passive, Callan had an unmistakable sense that her agile mind was racing; evaluating these new circumstances and weighing possibilities.

“You need to come with me,” said Callan evenly. And then, raising his eyebrows he added, “Kira.”

Her eyes widened for just an instant before she caught herself. “What the hell is going on?” she demanded. “Why are you pointing that at me? And why did you call me Kira?”

“Because that’s your real name,” he said simply. “Kira Miller.”

She shook her head in annoyance. “If this is your idea of a joke, Bill, it isn’t funny.”

Callan ignored her. “Catch,” he said, tossing her a set of car keys. She snatched them from the air with athletic ease, her gaze never wavering from his.

“I took the liberty of removing the pepper spray from your key ring,” he told her. “Let’s go. You’re driving.”

“Where’s Jason?” she asked.

“He’s in the garage,” replied Callan with a sly smile. “Waiting for us.”

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what this is about!” she snapped.

Callan closed the gap between them in the blink of an eye and shoved the long barrel of the silencer roughly against the side of her head. He reached out with his other hand and grabbed her chin, forcing her face mere inches from his. Callan was a muscular six-foot-three and his meaty paws were enormous.

“For a smart chick, you’re just not getting it,” he hissed. “Things have changed. I don’t work for you anymore. I’m the one giving the orders now! You’ll do as I say or I’ll break you in half.” He gave her chin and lower face a quick, powerful squeeze, so strong that several of her teeth cut into the inside of her mouth, drawing blood. “Have I made myself clear!” he whispered through clenched teeth, finally releasing her chin.

She rubbed her chin and glared at him with such a feral intensity he expected holes to appear in the back of his head.

“Admit your real name is Kira Miller or I’ll break your left arm,” he growled fiercely.

She continued to glare at him as she considered his threat. “Okay,” she said finally. “So I’m Kira Miller. So what? I’m paying you and Jason a small fortune to protect me, and you’re putting that in serious jeopardy.”

Callan laughed. “You think?” he said sarcastically. He shook his head. “Thanks for your concern, but I won’t be needing your small fortune anymore. I’m trading it for a large one.” He grabbed her arm and shoved her in the direction of the garage. “Let’s go,” he barked. “I’m not going to ask again.”

As she walked toward the garage she detoured a few yards to snatch a jean jacket draped over the back of a chair, and quickly slipped it on. Callan shook his head in disbelief. It was still almost sixty degrees outside. In November! Positively balmy. Callan had lived in Chicago much of his life, but he knew that after only a few years of being spoiled in the paradise climate of San Diego the pathetic residents became hypersensitive to cold.

As they reached the door that led to the garage, she turned completely around to face him, looking as though she wanted to ask a question, her right hand now buried in the coat’s right pocket. Callan reacted instinctively, twisting away from her before his conscious mind knew why, just as a small caliber bullet tore through her pocket and dug a shallow, five-inch-long groove across his stomach. If he had not turned when he did, the bullet would have bored a hole straight through his gut.

Callan threw his massive body into Kira Miller and slammed her into the door before she could get off another shot. While she was still dazed, he wrestled her arm from her pocket and easily ripped the Glock subcompact she had hidden there from her fingers.

He could feel the wetness of his blood as it slid from his wound and soaked into his nowtorn shirt, but he knew the injury was superficial and not in need of immediate attention. He spun his former client around roughly and began to frisk her, something he should have done from the start. He had assumed she was content to leave security to her two hired mercenaries, but it was clear she had taken additional precautions of her own. He found a small canister of pepper spray attached to her lower leg, but no other weapons.

He considered roughing her up a bit as punishment for her attack, but decided against it. If he injured her, she would be more difficult to manage, and it was his carelessness that had allowed the attempt anyway. Besides, he had made certain she was all out of surprises.