The sky was a brilliant sapphire blue. Maxx smiled and and tucked in his arms, reducing air resistance. Slashing down at a sharp angle, vectoring in on the bright yellow jumpsuit below him. To the left and right, blossoming canopies as chutes deployed.

He had to make this, there wouldn’t be another chance.

Air pushing hard against his goggles, right hand gripping the knife. Closing in, Maxx could make out the logo on the jumpers back, “Wallace” in big white letters. Maxx plunged down, raising the knife high. Slicing arc, look of terror in the jumper’s eyes as the ruined chute streamed out of the gash.

Maxx threw the knife, letting it tumble into the air. The landscape melted, screams from the doomed jumper reverberating across infinite plains.

Killing in a dream was easy, if you had the right gear.

Bright lights, and the sharp smells of supercooled conductors dripping milky-white traces of mist. Maxx rubbed his eyes. That was too close, he almost didn’t have time to extract himself. Each contract was different, but getting the timing right was crucial.

Large dewar flasks lined the wall, hoses and leads winding into a single trunk suspended over an ugly headset. Protruding wires and clips, ending in small probes designed to tunnel signals right into the brain. It was a custom rig, for clients demanding exacting results.

It was just business.

Maxx had hundreds of dream-kills under his belt. The marks ended up brain dead or manifesting terminal conditions like a heart attack. Very neat and tidy. Precisely why he was paid well. When it came to eliminating the competition, silencing a witness or just exacting revenge – Maxx was there, arsenal of tools in hand.

Maxx’s watch beeped, alerting him to another target about to enter REM sleep. Lowering the headset, Maxx closed his eyes and reinserted into the liquid reality of dreamtime.

The auditorium was packed, full of attendees for the annual stockholders meeting. Staggered rows of velvet seats, plunging down to a small semicircle stage. A central podium in the spotlight, whispers and jeers as the mark came out completely naked.

Maxx pushed through the crowd standing in the aisles, hand gripping a large-caliber pistol. Just need to get down there and pull the trigger. Easy-peasy. He had a bit more time on this one at least.

Every person had a brochure with one name printed on the front, “Anita” in large black capitals. It was a common thing, a target using their own name on things inside dreamtime. Maxx kept pushing through, feet feeling like he was wading in deep water.

Anita stood at the podium, skin glistening in the bright lights. She began to speak, halting on every other word. Her eyes scanned the crowd, anxiety mounting.

Maxx shifted his grip on the umbrella, looking down in shock. Dammit, no.

Anita smiled, pointing at Maxx, “There he is, GET HIM!”

Dammit, she knew. Maxx started to run, feet tearing into the carpet like soft mud. Hands appeared out of each seat row, hands upon hands linked in a long chain. Fingers gripped his legs, locked around his waist, held down his arms.

Then the background shimmered, like a stone being thrown into a pond. Maxx was sitting in a wooden chair, straps around his arms and legs. A metallic band lowered on to his head. It was an electric chair, right down to the large knife-switch on the wall beside the single telephone that would ring to save a life.

But that call wasn’t coming.

Anita walked out into the light, holding a cigarette. Slim, brunette and wearing a simple black dress. She cackled and took a drag, exhaling slowly.

“I’ve been through worse than you.”, she smiled, baring perfect teeth.

“How… how did you know?”, Maxx strained as the bands tightened. He couldn’t move his head or limbs.

“Call it defensive training, or more accurately conditioning.”, Anita flicked the ash, exposing the ember.

“You’re going to tell me exactly where you are, for real.”, she stepped closer, the glowing tip hovering over his eye.

Maxx tried, but couldn’t speak. She had to be a lucid dreamer. No one had control like this, unless–

“You’ve been retired. Now, lead us to your little lab.”, she plunged the tip into his eye.

Maxx screamed, echoes filling infinite plains.