Dumarest regains consciousness and finds he is a "guest" of Shandaha, an evidently wealthy recluse whose high-tech home is a disorienting place that can alter its appearance to suit the whims of its owner, and employs illusions that can distort the occupants' sense of time and distance. Dumarest is reuinted with Chagal, and meets Shandaha's female assistants, Nada and Delise. As payment for rescuing Dumarest from the Shining Ones, Shandaha requests that Earl entertain him by means of a device that allows Shandaha to vicariously experience the memories of the user. To buy time, Earl consents, but is wary because Chagal seems depressed and distracted after using the device. Chagal eventually gets his nerve back and agrees to help Earl find a way to escape, as both men realize their host is not exactly what he seems, and their refuge is actually a prison. Dumarest realizes he is probably under constant surveillance, and plays along when Nada seduces him. After the first few sessions with the memory device, the device itself no longer seems neccessary. Dumarest begins to slip in and out of relived experiences from his past at seeming random, which he finds odd. He also discovers that he has a limited ability to change the appearance of his environment by force of will, which he also finds odd. Nada disapproves but isn't surprised by his ability to do so, which he finds oddest of all.
Through the memory device, Earl relives key events from his youth. First, his harrowing final day on Earth, a day on which he killed his brutal foster father when his punishment threatened to turn lethal, fled, killed a member of the vigilante search party that pursued him, and stowed away on a starship. He remembers the captain's unexpected mercy when discovered (the standard treatment for stowaways is eviction into the vacuum of space, but Dumarest was allowed to stay aboard as an unofficial "intern" and subsequently learned much about the operation of a starship, interstellar commerce, and the brutal conditions prevalent on most worlds). He relives the day that the Cyclan caught up with them on Figona to punish them for ignoring the proscription on travel to Earth. Although Earl did not know at the time who was responsible or why, he was critically injured, the crew killed and the ship destroyed. He remembers receiving treatment from the Universal Brotherhood and spending a year with the monks to repay their generosity before deciding their way was not his. He relives his harsh training and even more brutal initiation into the world of arena fighting, a career for which he had aptitude due to his exceptional speed and reflexes. He remembers meeting and falling in love with Sardia, manager and patron for his arena bouts (a memory he cherishes). Unfortunately, he is also forced to relive her torture and attempted murder by hired thugs of a competing promoter, which he could neither prevent nor avenge.
Between sessions with the memory device, Dumarest investigates Shandaha's abode but fails to discover a means of escape. He does glean a vague understanding of the forces behind the illusory environment and eventually concludes that it is a construct of the Cyclan, and that Shandaha is in their employ. He confronts Shandaha with this knowledge, revealing the answer to a riddle 33 books in the making: Earth was proscribed and deleted from navigational almanacs in the distant past by the Cyclan, because native Terrans are the only compatible host for the growth of Homochon elements. The Cyclan cannot risk contamination of the key technology behind their gestalt conciousness by outsiders. Dumarest realizes that Shandaha isn't a Cyber in disguise, but merely one of the Cyclan's human agents, essentially a rancher responsible for tending the herd of Homochon-bearing humans. Shandaha has been acting on his own initiative to trick Dumarest into revealing the affinith twin formula, and now that the cat's out of the bag, Shandaha seems willing to kill Dumarest so his bosses don't find out that he not only failed to do so, but disclosed their biggest secret in the process. Dumarest naturally doesn't let that happen. He kills Shandaha, the strange palace is revealed to be the interior of a utility vehicle, and the illusions (including Shandaha's assistants) a product of Shandaha's telepathic talent. We know from previous books that the Cyclan invest heavily in psionic research, and although it isn't explicitly stated it seems reasonable to assume that they identified Shandaha's talent (and perhaps enhanced it) through that research, subsequently selecting him for this duty. Dumarest and Chagal end the novel in posession of a working vehicle and supplies, and intend to search for potential allies among the indigenous population.