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Earth has been saved from the TechPsychers and now Akarn has only one thing on his mind. Revenge for his incarceration on Krakol.
He and Ifor, after leaving the rest of the Psychic Knights behind, follow a lead that takes them to Fallon, a planet at the very edge of the galaxy. Not only do they find Ludo Maruda, the object of Akarn’s revenge, but a mysterious machine that threatens to take the two to the brink of insanity and rob Akarn of the one thing that would bring him peace in his life.
Book five in the Psychic Knights series
Fallon sat close to the edge of the galaxy. It was populated by outsiders of their own worlds. The non-conformists. Those that didn’t take too kindly to the heavy handed line set down by their own authorities. It also afforded a sanctuary from the TechPsychers.
The majority of the inhabitants lived in towns along the equator. Areas toward the North and South were hostile at the best of times, deadly at the worst. The kind of areas no-one ever ventured to unless there was a very good reason. And in the South, there was a very good reason.
From high above in its orbit, Fallon looked calm. A spinning sphere of a world lit up by two suns. Two suns that had watched over it for billions of years. Seen an immeasurable number of changes and coaxed life from its very soul. But what was about to happen was new and not of this world.
At the southernmost tip calmness seemed to placate the raging storm that had rampaged across the area for the last two weeks. It was clearly visible from the lofty heights of orbit. The calmness was followed by a wave that could just be detected by the human eye. The bluish hue to the wave allowed it to be tracked as it spread across the continent before disappearing. It was followed by another similar wave, and then another before a final, weaker wave ended the calmness and the storm returned.
Down on the surface of Fallon, within the area covered by the wave, a scene of psychotic madness seemed to grip the resident wildlife. Flying creatures zigzagged through the air, changing direction with such velocity that it tore ligaments and tendons from the stress. The Snorfa ran around in circles, screeching until it tripped over its own feet and fell to the ground. Even then it carried on kicking its legs and spinning in circles.
The butting Draons, instead of fighting for territory or a mate, continuously butted trees until exhausted.
The scenes lasted for hours or until the animals died from their actions. Fallon now had a new hostility. But not of its own making.
“Now, big man. Let me do the talking here, OK? You sometimes have a…lack of self control when asking questions and we’ve left a few people behind that have suffered because of that lack of control.”
Ifor was talking to Akarn as he guided the Savage Mind into the docking area of the space station high above Fallon.
It had been six months since they left Helin 3 and the rest of the Psychic Knights behind to find Ludo Maruda and Fallon was the best lead they had had since. Plenty of dead ends, false leads and even a set-up where they were ambushed. Ifor was sensing that the lack of progress was getting to Akarn and his patience was wearing thin. Even the Mystic was a little concerned.
This first showed itself about a month ago after a lead from one of Ludo’s associates on Salon Tor. It led to a dead end and Ludo’s trail seemed to get colder. Akarn insisted on going back to Salon Tor because he was sure that there was more information that Bradley Finch wasn’t telling them. Ifor and the Mystic tried to convince him that Bradley didn’t know any more than he had already told them, especially after the condition they had left him in, but Akarn wasn’t convinced and when they returned it was all Ifor could do to stop Bradley from being ripped apart.
“If I had a lack of control there would be no people left behind,” said Akarn a little annoyed at his friend’s remark.
The hum of the Savage Mind’s engine died down as the clamps took hold of it and fixed it into the dock. Ifor looked over and saw Akarn was already up and preparing to leave the ship. He walked over to him and reached up to put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Akarn, I understand how frustrating this all is. Hopes of finding this bastard have been trodden on so many times before, but I told Thorn I’d look after you and that wasn’t just in watching your back. I want to make sure you don’t drive yourself crazy every time we come up against a disappointment. If you end up killing all of the leads we get we may lose him forever. It’s a big galaxy out there. Let’s make sure he has nowhere to hide.”
Ifor felt Akarn’s shoulder relax and a deep sigh came from the big man.
“You’re right. It has been getting to me. You take the lead down there. I’ll try to stay calm.”
Ifor patted him on the shoulder and said,
“Good man. Let’s go and see if we can find this bastard.”
They had pre-arranged to call for the Mystic when they had sorted out their guide and so left the Savage Mind in its mooring and headed for transport to the surface. High above them a spy fly watched. It relayed its pictures down to the surface to a monitor in an abandoned warehouse. The watcher reached over to the communicator and pressed a button.
“Enemies have been confirmed. What are your orders?” The communicator was silent for a few seconds until,
“Make sure they are not alive the next time we speak.” With that the communicator went dead.
The watcher turned round.
“Get everything ready. It’s time to earn our pay.”
When the two men landed on the surface the sky was a murky grey. A rumbling noise was ever present, but the rain held off. The cool fresh air felt good after the artificially created air they had been breathing over the last couple of weeks. Ifor felt the hairs on his skin rise as the breeze lightly brushed over them.
The area they had been dropped off in was busy. The information that was given to them mentioned the dark side of the planet. A place that, when asking about it, scared a few of the locals.
Their lead, Ellery Holt, lived in Chad, one of the most populated and cramped places on Fallon.
It was a good ninety minutes flight from where the two men were now. A dark and dreary city littered with shanty town like dwellings. Fallon was not a rich planet, but it was sanctuary from the law makers.
Chad grew from the usual gambling dens and eateries that first sprung up to cater to the new inhabitants. Its sprawling streets spread out like tree roots, eventually creating areas that became little towns in themselves that nurtured the criminal element and gave birth to gangs that controlled the towns. But the area created from those first dens and eateries was neutral and off limits to the surrounding gangs.
Ellery Holt lived in the neutral zone. He was a hunter and made a good living from selling pelts and meat to the locals. A resident for twenty years now, he’d seen a lot. The growth of the city; the influx of different races all fleeing the same thing.
He saw the two men before they approached him. They weren’t the usual vagabonds you’d see here so they stood out like sore thumbs. Especially the big guy. He must have been at least seven feet tall and dark as the blackest night. Almost as wide as his dwelling. The other one was about a foot shorter, but powerfully built and a few shades lighter. They both wore a body suit and a long coat. He didn’t recognise the material. It looked like animal skin, but a little artificial.
Ellery was in a bar at the time. Sat by the window with his beer watching the world go by. It was late afternoon and he’d come back from a hunt that very morning. He’d unloaded his flyer and left his spoils with his employee to sort out. One of the very first things he did after every hunt was to sit in this bar with a cool refreshing beer.
The two strangers walked into the bar and made for Ellery straight away.
“Ellery Holt?” asked the smaller of the two men. “The man at your place said you’d be right here; sitting by the window.”
“Then he was right. You know my name so who are you?”
“I’m Ifor and this is Akarn. We’d like to employ your services.”
“I’m sorry, guys. I only work for myself. I don’t sell my hunting skills.”
“It’s not the hunting we want to employ you for. It’s your knowledge of the dark side we want. We want you to take us there and guide us to this point here.”
Ifor activated the holo-map on his wrist and a map of the southern part of Fallon spread out over the table. A red flashing dot pinpointed the area Ifor mentioned.
Ellery studied it for a few seconds.
“There’s some rough country there and the local wildlife ain’t too friendly. Why d’ya want to go there?”
Ifor looked up at Akarn before speaking.
“We’re looking for someone and we’ve been told he might be here. A camp that’s been set up.”
“I think you’ve been told wrong. There’s nothing out there. The terrain’s too rough for anyone to live out there.”
“We have enough credits to keep you for the rest of your life. We just need to be guided to this spot. We’ll be able to make our own way back.”
Ellery looked at Ifor for a few seconds and then at Akarn. He studied their eyes. You can tell a lot about what an animal is going to do by looking deep into their eyes as he had found out in all the years he had been hunting. What move they were going to make next. What action they were going to take when you made your move. He wanted to get a base reading before he asked the next question.
“Do you know anything about the madness that is affecting that area?”
The two men looked puzzled, but there was no recognition in their eyes of what he was asking. They both shook their heads. He was satisfied.
“Something strange is happening to the wildlife down there. If there is this camp out there, like you say, maybe whatever they’re doing there is poisoning the area.”
“We don’t know what’s going on there. We just have good reason to believe the man we are looking for is there,” said Ifor.
“Why don’t you take a flyer if the camp is there? It’ll be a lot easier and a lot cheaper.”
“Let’s just say we want to surprise him.”
Ellery’s next question was from experience, but things had changed a lot since he was in the business. His eye for the signs had diminished.
“Are you bounty hunters?”
Ifor gave a little chuckle.
“Mr Holt, we just want to get to this place. Now if you don’t want our credits can you point us to someone else who might be able to help.”
Ellery paused while considering his answer.
“I want half now and the rest when you’re there.”
“We have a deal. When can we leave?”
“We’ll set out tomorrow afternoon. We should get to the nearest clearing for landing the flyer around about nightfall.” Ellery pointed to the clearing on the map. “We’ll camp there for the night and start making tracks in the morning. It’ll be four or five days before we get there. We can use the pod some of the way. The rest will have to be on foot. Are you prepared for a little hard walking?”
“We’re prepared, Mr Holt. We’ll come by your place at three tomorrow. Now, can you point us to a good place to stay for the night?”
‘Thorn? May I speak with you?’
The request came through to Thorn’s mind. It was Torst. Thorn had been waiting for this ever since they got back from Earth. He knew exactly what Torst wanted to speak to him about.
‘Sure. Meet me in the den in twenty minutes.’
Torst was already there when Thorn entered the den fifteen minutes later. The Vulzeon had taken to wearing clothes on his artificial body while around humans, which had to be specially made to go over his four arms. His purple skinned face, as ever, showed no emotion.
‘Torst, what would you like to talk to me about?’ Thorn walked over to the chair by the window overlooking the bay below. He was a little over six feet tall with a shaved head and hard features that were partly covered by the eye protectors that he had come to wear these days, even out of the sunlight.
Thorn didn’t see with his eyes any more. His mind was his view onto the world now; an unexpected side effect of one of the Mystic’s spells. A side effect that Thorn was more than happy with.
There were no physical problems with his eyes; medical officer Alisha had ran all the tests on them and given them a clean bill of health. To Thorn they had become a secondary way of seeing and took more effort to use than his mind.
‘You may recall when you began your Mastering that I said your new abilities could help my race as well as your own. You are fully recovered now from your exertions with the TechPsychers and I request that you now provide that help.
As you know my caste has been hounded off of our home-world by the Warrior caste. I believe you can restore peace to our race. There have been dissenting voices amongst the Warrior caste, for as long as I can remember, about their polices on contact with other races. Unfortunately, the leaders are powerful and their hold over their own caste is strong.’
Torst paused for a few seconds while considering what he was going to say next.
‘And, of course there is the matter of the use of the Naturals from your planet Earth in experiments and armies throughout the galaxies.’
Thorn winced inside as he thought about what Torst’s Warrior caste had been doing to his own race. What made him even more angry was the fact that it was one of his own race, Conrad Preest, that had trafficked the Naturals to the Vulzeons for power and which led to the creation of the TechPsychers. Conrad Preest had managed to escape Earth when the Psychic Knights took down the Central Organic Computer that was the central control for all TechPsychers on Earth. Thorn had vowed to catch up with him one day.
‘I haven’t forgotten, Torst. Now that Conrad Preest is no longer in the picture I know the Naturals are safe. As you say. I am now fully recovered. Plans have been put in place for me and the remaining Knights to go and visit your home-world. We will be leaving in two days.’
If Torst was surprised at Thorn’s response, he couldn’t tell. Not one muscle moved during the short silence that followed.
‘I have been studying a little more about your home-world to figure out the best way to approach this. What are your thoughts?’
‘Our caste has always sought diplomatic ways to bring about change. Since the new leaders have been in power this has not been possible. Now, with your help, we have a stronger position to start from, but diplomacy will be our starting point.’
‘Exactly our thoughts. However, we have one request. Your leaders, who have taken part in the experimentations on my people. We want them put on trial. We want collaboration between our two worlds to prosecute them.’
‘This is not an unreasonable request and I’m sure the rest of my caste will be in full agreement with this. I will contact them on our departure with our plans. This will prevent the traitor in our caste from giving the Warrior caste any warning about our intentions.’
‘Good. I will call a meeting for tomorrow. I would like you to address everybody to give us a run-down of your diplomatic procedures just so we’re all prepared.’
‘Very well. I will begin my preparations now.’ Torst gave a slight bow and left the room.
The city was heaving that evening. Akarn and Ifor had secured a place for the night, just off of the main strip, and were now out eating.
They found a surprisingly quiet eatery with a balcony overlooking the northern part of the main strip. Ifor had just finished an uncomfortably chewy leg of a local creature that was recommended by the waitress, when he sent a message to Akarn.
‘I think we may have company. Down by the pepper stall. Two guys sitting on the wall. I noticed them following us when we left Ellery Holt. I think there are a few more, but I can’t see them at the moment.’
‘Do you recognise them? Could they be someone who’s got beef with you?’
Akarn was referring to Ifor’s previous occupation as a mercenary.
Ifor took a swig of his beer to wash down the after taste of the meat.
‘I’d be very surprised if there was anybody out this far that I would have upset and I never picked up anybody following us here when we were on the Savage Mind. My guess is that Ludo is here and he knows we’re here too.’
Akarn’s eyes narrowed.
‘We need to catch one of these guys and find out for sure. Which one do you think’s the leader?’
‘I’d say it was the one with the bandanna. He’s always been ahead of the others.’
‘OK. So he’s the one we’ll keep alive.’
Ifor looked up at the big man.
‘I think we better keep this physical. Don’t think the locals will take too kindly to Psychers. Could cause us more trouble.’
A smile fell across Akarn’s face.
“Just the way I like it,” he said out loud.
“Thank you sir. I’ll be sure to pass your comments on to the chef.” The waitress began to clear away the table and both men chuckled.
“Excuse me. Could you tell us if there is an area of this town that has a bit more open space? A place we may be able to sit down at and enjoy the warm evening.”
The waitress stared at Ifor with a quizzical look and then a slight smile.
“We don’t get many folks around here asking for somewhere to sit and take in the evening. It’s usually for gambling, drinking and women. And not necessarily in that order.” She brushed away the wispy bit of dark hair that kept falling over her right eye. “The only place I can think of is the square down by the Outback bar. You may find somewhere to sit there. Can’t guarantee it’ll be quiet though.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.”
Bandanna man watched as the two men walked out of the eatery and headed off down the street.
“Target’s on the move,” he said into the communicator. “Stick close and wait for my signal. We want to make this as quick and silent as possible. He followed on with three of his men. Two other teams of four moved from their position and kept the strangers in their sight. It was going to happen tonight.