Dumarest, although confined, manages to use the Affinity Twin to take over the body of Chagney, the navigator, who is in the last stages of a terminal illness and has already been relieved of duty. He kills Broge and his acolyte, stashes his real body in a crate of cargo for their next destination, and disposes of all the evidence out the airlock. The rest of the crew is bemused by the disappearance of all of their passengers, but decide that making their next scheduled stop, reaping a tidy profit, and pretending nothing ever happened is preferable to getting grilled by the Cyclan if they make a rendezvous missing one Cyber, one acolyte and one prisoner. After the crate is safely on the ground on Zakym and the ship is back in space, Dumamrest takes a walk out the airlock in Chagney’s body. Chagney’s mind, trapped in the submissive half of the Affinity Twin, can’t stop him, but Dumarest can “hear” Chagney “cry out” against his impending death, the memory of which will never cease to freak him out when it is recalled under stress in several subsequent novels.
His consciousness now restored to his own body, Dumarest quickly befriends the owners of the cargo, who were somewhat confused upon finding a comatose man among the contents. These include Lavinia, the leader of her family, and Roland, her advisor (and secret admirer). Zakym is a peaceful, unsophisticated farming world near The Rift whose main exports are excellent horses, and various arts and crafts. It’s also a somewhat freaky place where the electromagnetic field generated by the daily congruence of the binary suns interferes with the brain waves of organic beings. For a brief period before sunset that the locals call ‘delusia’, humans talk with the dead. The locals mostly believe this is because the effect lowers a barrier between the living and the life-force of the departed, while Dumarest (who talks with Chagney and Kalin, and notices that people can only talk with the ghosts of people they once knew) deduces it’s just a hallucination.
And if the generally believed superstition about delusia isn’t creepy enough, there is a universally held belief that after the curfew which starts at dark, anyone going outside or even opening a window will not only suffer a fate worse than death, but also break “The Pact” with “The Sungari” and bring down Armageddon on them all. Never mind that nobody knows who or what The Sungari are (other than the fact that they were non-human colonists on Zakym before humans arrived), or why the original human settlers made The Pact with them. Dumarest believes that’s all a myth too.
Of course, in this galaxy no peaceful planet stays that way for long, and on Zakym the threat is presented by Gydapen, a noble to whom Lavinia is considering a marriage of convenience to consolidate the power of their two houses. When Dumarest reveals that he was unable to stow away in a crate addressed to Gydapen because it contained hundreds of machine guns, it raises a few eyebrows. First negotiation, and then subterfuge both fail to nullify the threat, but do reveal that Gydapen intends to eliminate the council of noble families and seize sole control of the entire planet by force. Gydapen has hired off-world mercenaries to train an army of his retainers, and his previous actions, including public denials and even his proposal to Lavinia, were all a ruse to allay suspicion until he was ready to strike.
Dumarest and Lavinia are stranded in the desert at night after he thwarts an attempt by Gydapen to kill them, and he learns the Sungari are actually all too real and quite deadly. They manage to survive that ordeal and an attack the next morning by Gydapen’s mercenary advisor Gnais, whom Dumarest kills. Afterwards, Dumarest gives Lavinia and Roland some unpleasant advice: based on the state of readiness of Gydapen’s forces, they have no time to hire or train military forces that would have any hope of successful resistance, so the only alternative is to kill Gydapen. Much to Dumarest’s (and probably the reader’s) surprise, they agree without hesitation. They stage a surprise attack on Gydapen’s HQ, and without Gnais to organize a defense it’s pretty much the blind fighting the blind until Dumarest finds and confronts Gydapen. Gydapen is the most violent noble on a small, peaceful world. Dumarest is the most peaceful trained killer in a violent galaxy. Who do you think wins? (Hint: the series does not end with Book 16).
By now, of course, Lavinia has fallen in love with Dumarest, and while he doesn’t love her the way he has loved a very few others, he is strongly attracted to her emotional strength and intelligence (and it probably doesn’t hurt that she’s a total babe as well). When she asks him to stay on as her advisor and consort, he agrees (and the reader is stunned). What about Earth? All he needs is enough money to pay for the computer time, and he has been handsomely rewarded for his service to Lavinia’s family (and the whole planet). What about the Cyclan? They were hot on his heels on Harald, the ship on which he escaped was headed for Zakym, and it doesn’t take a Cyber to figure out his probable location. Oh, and what about the Sungari? Despite an infuriating number of hints and clues that there’s a real mystery to be solved there, we never found out the real story behind them or the Pact, only that they get really pissed when it’s broken. If the Dumarest novels weren’t already a series, I’d swear I smelled a sequel coming…