Marcus was preparing dinner for himself while the television played in the background. He wasn’t even paying attention to it until he heard his name.

“-Marcus Stevenson, and Louise Ross,” the reporter said. “Sixteen others were injured in the shooting.”

The pot began to boil over, but Marcus didn’t notice. The ticker at the bottom of the TV read “Three killed, sixteen injured in Highgate Mall shooting.” Next to the reporter were three photos. One of them was his.

He stared at the screen, unable to make sense of what he was seeing. The words washed over him like pure noise.

The phone rang, and he struggled to get his brain in motion again.

“Hello.”

A peppy voice came over the phone. “Hi, this is Janet from Allnet Communications. May I speak with… Marcus Stevenson?”

“This is him,” he said, still staring at the news report.

“Well, Mr. Stevenson, I’m pleased to tell you that you’ve qualified for-” The line suddenly went silent.

“Hello?” he said. There was no response, but he didn’t care.

He dropped the phone, turning his full attention back to the television. The news report had gone to commercial, but Marcus rewound so the three pictures appeared beside the reporter again.

He recognized Louise Ross, although he wouldn’t have been able to tell you her name before. She worked at SoftTech with him. He didn’t know what she did, though. Interdepartmental communication was heavily frowned on. SoftTech didn’t want its employees to even talk to each other, much less discuss the projects they were on.

The other victim looked vaguely familiar. Did he work at SoftTech, too? Marcus couldn’t remember. Was there some connection between the three of them?

But why would anyone be targeting SoftTech employees? They were just a software firm. They did database algorithms and encryptions. Nothing anyone would care enough to kill over.

He realized he was avoiding the real question: how could he be standing here if he’d been shot to death at Highgate Mall? That was his driver’s license picture on the television. It didn’t make any sense.

Maybe it was somebody who just looked like him, he thought. But that didn’t make any sense. The only way they could have identified the bodies so quickly was if they had identification on them. Was somebody trying to steal his identity? But why would he be with other SoftTech employees?

He started to rewind to the beginning of the report when the power went off. The light of the television stood out sharply in the darkness for a brief moment before it faded as well.

There was a crash as the door was smashed open. Bright lights blinded him as men moved into the dark condo.

“Marcus Stevenson,” a voice behind one of the lights said, “come with us.”

The flashlight lowered, and Marcus could see a man dressed in black. He was wearing a helmet, goggles, and what looked like a bullet-proof vest.

“What’s going on?” Marcus asked.

Two other similarly armored figures spread out, looking around the room.

“Exctraction,” the man said. “Timetable got FUBARed, so we’ve gotta do this quick and dirty.” Marcus felt this was a woefully inadequate answer for a very simple question.

“Sir,” one of the others said. It was a woman, but with the armor, Marcus hadn’t realized that until she spoke. She was holding up his dropped phone.

The leader grabbed him. “Have you been in contact with anyone in the last fifteen minutes?”

“No,” he said at once. “I mean, Allnet called about some promotion, but the call got dropped.”

“Damn. We’ve got a potential breach. Double-time, men.”

The two subordinates nodded, then proceeded to ransack his apartment. The woman pulled down his TV with a loud crash, while her partner yanked drawers out of his desk.

“No disks, sir,” he reported as he knelt by the computer, ripping cables from the back of the computer.

“That your only computer, Stevenson?”

“What are you doing?” Marcus yelled. Even as he was asking this, the woman started pulling DVDs from his shelf into a large nylon bag. “Are you robbing me?”

“I’m asking the questions. Do you have any other computers? A laptop, a smart phone. Hell, if you have a god-damn mp3 player, you’d better speak up.”

“I’m not answering anything until you tell me what’s going on. I think I deserve that much at least. I apparently died today, and now you’re destroying my apartment!” A sudden thought occurred to him, the kind that makes your blood run cold. “Don’t the police or the FBI usually have letters on their vests.”

The man pointed his flashlight into Marcus’s face again, and Marcus received another insight – the flashlight was attached to a pistol.

“Gold star for the observation. We’re supposed to take you in alive if possible, but if you’re going to make that difficult, we’ve got orders to make sure you nobody else can get to you. You’re already officially dead, so it’s not even any paperwork. But I’ll make you a deal. You stop being a pain in my ass and answer the damn question, and I’ll tell you what I can once we’re out of here.”

“The laptop’s in the bedroom,” he said. The leader lowered his gun and signaled the woman to get it.

“Sorry this had to happen to you, Stevenson, but look on the bright side.”

“There’s a bright side to this?” he asked. His voice sounded manic.

“You could have been the stiff at the mall.”

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