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[Part 1] 22:53:43 // 03-JUN-2042

Dodge pried his hand off the boat’s railing and pressed a finger to his neck. Either his heart had stopped or it was pounding so fast he couldn’t feel it.

He shouldn’t have taken that fourth dose.

Though, what was he supposed to do? Three pills weren’t enough anymore. And if not for the sheer weight of the chemicals stepping on his nerves, he wouldn’t be out there with his face full of lake air at all.  

This was it, the moment he’d been dreading. Months of planning ended here. It’d be over in an hour, just an hour. He only had to keep from collapsing into a molten panic attack for the next sixty minutes while he stole a reclusive billionaire philanthropist rock-god’s DNA out from under him—then it would all be over and he’d trade his score for the peace of a brand new brain. One with the replactor chaos and the day at the beach and every other tragedy he’d ever suffered carved clean from his life. He’d never worry about anything ever again.

One way or another, his whole existence was about to change. Which terrified him. Because if he didn’t hold it together and they figured out what he was up to… 

Well, misery has no depths and all, he knew that firsthand, but he was close enough to see the jagged spikes rushing up at him. The bottom was coming fast, and this was his last parachute. 

If he messed this up, even as excruciating as his life was now—he knew the impact would kill him. It was this or swallow a fist full of pills.    

Even still, even knowing what was at stake, his hysterical nervous system screamed at him to jump over the railing, to bail now and swim to safety. His eyes shot to the black water, then to the glowing shore half a click away. 

Instead he faced back toward the island and squeezed the railing in a death grip. Too late for that. With his luck he’d drown and the seagulls would eat his remains.   

What was he doing? He wasn’t built for this. He should have found someone else to handle this part. How would he ever convince anyone he was a world-famous journalist? 

He was spinning, knew he was spinning, and fought to throttle down his ever-revving brain. He’d worked through every step, over and over. There was no other option. It had to be him. Who else was there? Dodge only had one friend, and he was already involved—which meant hiring outside help. A mercenary. A criminal. A talker, someone who considered conning old ladies out of their life savings a viable career path. 

As hard as he’d worked to get here, he didn’t trust a criminal not to disappear with the score once it was all over.