Dumarest quickly has bigger problems on his hands as what appears to be a Cyclan fleet arrives.† He and Voldoya have a brief power struggle but Dumarest takes command and orders the destruction of what he realizes are mostly decoy drones.† The two remaining ships retreat, and while Voldoya believes it was just a bluff, Dumarest realizes it was a distraction.† Dumarest leads the troops he has trained onto the surface, where mercenary drop troops are attempting to burn their way into Zabulís hull.† Dumarestís forces wipe out the mercenaries but are nearly decimated themselves, and Dumarest is injured.† Dumarest no longer has enough loyal fighting men to resist Voldoyaís security force and while he undergoes treatment for his injuries, Voldoya naturally arranges to turn Dumarest over to the Cyclan, whose two ships have merely retreated to a safe distance.† One of the ships, operated by erstwhile slaver Captain Pendance (who has most recently been transporting mercenaries for the Cyclan) comes in to pick up Dumarest.
Dumarest had the foresight to liberate some slowtime from the infirmary and uses it during the transfer.† He causes a hull breach, leaves Pendance and his contingent in the damaged section and gets aboard the ship, intending to hijack it.† Unfortunately, he is confronted by Ysanne, the shipís navigator, who has taken the precaution of taking slowtime herself.† Fortunately, neither Ysanne nor Craig, the engineer, have any love or loyalty for Pendance or his new employers, and they are willing to help Dumarest steal the ship and escape.† They bluff their way close enough to the second ship to disable it and get away.† Unfortunately, they are forced to kill Maynard, the first officer, because he isnít as happy with the regime change as Ysanne and Craig, and this leaves them with no qualified pilot.† Fortunately, Dumarest has served on enough ships to know a little about it (the computer does most of the work anyway), and Ysanne is (by her own estimation) the best navigator in space.† Unfortunately, if Pendance or Cyber Vire, his boss, are still alive, they know the state of the shipís engines and fuel, so the Cyclan will likely be waiting at every world they can reach.† Fortunately, they encounter a stranded ship, the Galya, adrift in space due to sabotage, with enough fuel to extend their range, and a rich passenger who will reward them with unimaginable wealth for rescuing her if they take her to her intended destination.
The passenger is Su Posta, matriarch of Jourdan, and Dumarest returns her, her granddaughter (the heiress), and her surviving retinue to her homeworld.† He also rounds out his crew with the survivors from the Galyaís crew: Andre Batrun, the captain (and Dumarestís new pilot), Shandhar, the steward, and Olga Wenzer, the engineer (who offers to serve as handler).† Upon trying to collect the IOU for rescuing Su Posta, however, the reward is denied, and Dumarest canít otherwise afford the engine refit the ship requires (due to the strain put on it during the reckless and extended flight from Zabul).† It turns out Su Posta merely wants Dumarest to protect Lucita, the heiress.
This he does with a vengeance, uncovering the plot that led to the Galyaís sabotage.† He suspects Tammi Canoyan, an ambitious courtier as the conspirator (she was on hand for previous attempts on the royal family, including previous successful assassinations of both of Su Postaís daughters, and she was conveniently too ill to accompany Su Postaís retinue on the Galya as planned).† He exposes Olga as the saboteur (she was the engineer, she took a serious demotion from engineer to handler to stay on Earlís ship instead of being seen on Jourdan because she is a native of that world with her own motives for revenge against the royal family, and she had an escape pod ready to eject for a rendezvous with her wheel man if the sabotage hadnít been partially circumvented and prematurely triggered by the Galyaís conveniently dead handler).† Olga confesses but Tammi kills Olga before Olga can implicate her.† Thatís enough to convince everyone (including Su Postaís other rivals) that Tammi was guilty, and she is executed.
Su Postaís gratitude is boundless, and Dumarest collects the reward, which is enough to replace the shipís engine and keep it stocked with fuel and supplies for as far as they want to go.† Meanwhile, Ysanne has proved to be smart, resourceful (and beautiful, of course), with a will to survive and an independence of spirit that seem to be making Earl fall in love with her.† In a sign that it might actually be a healthy relationship, Earl has only mentally compared her to Kalin once, and there is no physical resemblance.
You see bad things are about to happen, donít you?† Before the repairs are done, Pendance shows up with his one remaining henchman, kills Shandhar, incapacitates Batrun and Craig and captures Duamrest and Ysanne.† He canít decide whether he would rather turn Dumarest over to the Cyclan or torture him to death personally, and while he tries to make up his mind, Dumarest goads him into letting down his guard.† Dumarest has a lot of experience in that area, and manages to kill Pendance and his henchman without Ysanne getting killed in the crossfire!† Unheard of!
Meanwhile, Cyber Prime Elge has been investigating the deterioration of the brains in the Central Intelligence.† He is analyzing mental recordings of those brainsí communication, including the experiment with former Cyber Prime Nequal (in Book 22, The Terra Data), and the effect they had on Cyber Okos (in Book 23, World of Promise) and has become obsessed with them.† Obsession, of course, is something to which a Cyber should be immune, especially the Cyber Prime.† He is negligent of routine matters, and even seems lackadaisical about the search for Dumarest.† Elge comes to the conclusion that what is happening is not actually an affliction, but an evolution to a higher state of consciousness.† He then slips into catatonic withdrawal, leaving the Cyclan apparently leaderless.
Later, Dumarest and Ysanne discuss his quest for Earth, which the rest of the crew is willing to undertake for various reasons.† Batrun, a captain who let his ship be destroyed, would otherwise be lucky to find work cleaning toilets, so heís happy serving as pilot.† Craig, who was routinely humiliated, occasionally tortured, and once permanently maimed by Pendance, thinks Dumarest is the best boss ever.† Ysanne loves Earl and shares his sense of adventure.† She reviews the clues he has gained so far, including what he learned during his time with the Terridae.† Ysanne puts it all together and realizes the nursery rhyme Dumarest learned from the senile archive keeper contains the coordinates of Earth, and she decodes them for him.† the Cyclan is crippled, possibly evolving to a higher plane of consciousness, and Dumarest now has the coordinates of Earth, a ship, a crew, a ton of money for fuel and supplies, and a smart, resourceful woman who loves him and whom he can love.† If you like closure and happy endings, stop reading right now.†