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Part One

Psychro of House Myntaello had been on many space ships in his time, but by far the Graviton freighter he was on was one of his least favourites. The people of that moon, one of five in the Plundarr system, excelled at two things: alcohol and weapons. Actually, if the gentleman across from him was to be believed, they were working on combining the two.

The freighter had a small mess hall, where some percentage of the thirty or so occupants could usually be found. Very few of them were passengers, headed from the moons to Third Earth, and only six crew were required to be running the ship at any given time. Psychro was there now, listening absently to the Psion/Graviton Lunatak named Mind Grind extol the virtues of getting opposing armies drunk from long range. Took all the fun out of getting blitzed, Psychro felt, but the stocky man didn't see it that way.

Still, he found it hard to be annoyed. His life was running pretty smoothly of late. His twin sister had married her beau, and was expecting his child in about four more months. While he wasn't entirely comfortable with their situation, he'd grown to accept it, and had found Psikaris' happiness contagious. Adding to his own mental state was the woman of his dreams, the Icewalker known as Chilla, was waiting for him on Third Earth. In exchange for performing a small task, sleeping with the Evil Chaser Mandora, she agreed to take him out on a date. It wasn't much, and there were no promises, but it was a start. Even the largest blizzard started with a single flake of snow.

"Hey there," a friendly voice said from beside him. "I thought Tug Mug might be with you." He glanced over and saw Black Tiger holding a notebook to her chest. She was the daughter of a high ranking Darkling who had broken taboos and married a Thunderian. Orange hair and faint grey stripes were the most visible sign of this union, though there was a very slight orange tint to the skin if you looked close enough.

"Nah. He's up on the bridge," he replied. He watched her saunter off and shook his head sadly. Poor kid, barely seventeen and she was head over heels for Tug Mug, and the rotund goof didn't even know it. He knew the signs, recognized it immediately. He shrugged inwardly; everyone had their fetish. His was women in general; it was one of the reasons that Chilla had warded him off for so long. It wasn't that he was simply out for sexual conquest, though that was occasionally the case, it was that he got bored with his laundry list of soul mates. In fact, he had nearly tried to seduce Black Tiger herself just to prove that he still had 'it' when it came to the younger generation. Luckily, there were lines that he wouldn't cross.

He discovered, to his shock, that Mind Grind was still talking, having clearly not noticed that he wasn't listening. "You know what the worst part of this ship ees?" The Graviton accent wasn't quite as noticeable in this one as it was in others, for which Psychro was grateful. He also suspected that the answer had nothing to do with the stench of unwashed men. "Eet's that we're carrying all this beer, and we can't drink any of it. What's the point in having beer if you can't drink eet?"

"I could certainly use a drink right now," Psychro thought wryly to himself. Out loud he asked "I thought they divided some out every day."

"But een such small glasses." Mind Grind practically sobbed, standing and waddling out of the mess hall. Alone again, Psychro chewed on a piece of bread and tried to think of happier thoughts.

The 'Vast Belly' cruised along at a slow clip. They were a little under a day away from the Moons of Plundarr and were just reaching a small asteroid cluster that lay between themselves and Third Earth. The bridge, such as it was, consisted of a pair of chairs side by side. Tug Mug stood behind the captain, staring out the small window at the rocks. Like most ships along this space lane, they were skirting the edge of the cluster rather than foolishly going through. It cost them about a minute, but the ends justified the means. Better to lose a minute than to pay for repairs.

"Captain," the other Graviton said. "There ees a ship nearby. Registry; Vertis."

The 'Vertis'? While the two crew members talked about whether they should contact them or not, Tug Mug puzzled over the ship's appearance. The Vertis was commanded by the mercenary Shiner. The Lunataks had worked with him once before and, while he wasn't a bad man, it was a little strange to see him out this far. Ultimately, from what he could tell, the freighter's captain decided not to hail him. They had no need for mercenaries at the moment.

"There you are!" Black Tiger said, entering. Tug Mug jumped, his motorized pistons bouncing in their grooves. She had her notebook with her, and a pen behind her ear. The girl was an aspiring author, looking to write about his companion Red Eye. "Psychro said you might be here. You have time to help me out some more?"

He shrugged. He didn't see any reason not to. She was pleasant company, and telling embarrassing stories about his friends was one of his favourite hobbies. He gestured with one hand.

"Captain! Unidentified craft appro..." Tug Mug turned, startled as the helmsman and captain collapsed very suddenly. Then the world went dark for him as well.

Not too far away a Darkling ship raced through space, transporting goods and a prisoner from the planet Third Earth. One of the passengers was Nuiane, friend of Nitro. She had heard the whispers before, here and elsewhere, about her relationship with the high ranking noble of the Ice Moon. Most of them were true; it was a sexual relationship, but the scope of it was all wrong. Icewalkers didn't believe in monogamy, and it wasn't entirely unusual for an Icewalker to have multiple partners. In the early days of the moon's history this was designed to maximize warmth, now it was more of a status symbol.

But Nuiane loved her master, even though she was a Darkling. When she had been caught committing a crime he had given her a choice of serving him or living in a dungeon for a year. The latter would have meant her death, and so she had reluctantly joined him. To her surprise he had proven kind and gentle when she behaved, but strict and harsh otherwise. Her feelings had softened, and she had stayed on after her sentence was up. The other girl that travelled with him, a Graviton whose parents had creatively named Gravica, had a similar story.

Nuiane was happy now. It had been so long since she had been around her people, this many of her people, that she had forgotten how it felt. They were quiet, almost secretive, but the nuances were there if you looked closely. She wandered the ship, attracting a fair amount of attention admittedly, and just listened to the ambiance. Crew members walked by, talking about how a hunting party had brought back a particularly large Groarner, a cat like creature that lurked in the trees.

Smells of native food wafted out of the mess hall, and she was tempted to get something to eat. But that would wait. Nitro liked the quiet times of eating with his companions, a much nicer word than someone else had used to describe her, and she quite enjoyed it too.

A pair of burly security personnel ran by, ducking into the elevator that went to the bridge section. Something was going on and Nitro needed to know about it.

Mystan stretched his senses. A powerful telekinetic, he sat in his holding cell in the cargo hold. Soon he would be back on the Psion Moon, stripped of his abilities as the price of failure. For now, he cherished his last fleeting moments with them. Idly he moved cargo around, to make it most inconvenient when it came to unload it. He felt the ship shudder to a stop and wondered why.

Psychro felt groggy and exhausted, like the night he'd spent with some twins only without the fun part of it. Experience told him not to move or open his eyes until he figured things out first. He'd been eating the greasiest piece of bread he'd ever had and then... then he was here. He was on a floor, cold steel against his cheek suggested that, but it wasn't the floor of the mess hall. So he had been moved, obviously. He could still smell Graviton, but it wasn't very powerful, and there was a soft feminine scent too.

There was talking. Black Tiger's voice, from what he could tell through the faint ringing in his ear. She was talking to a familiar voice. He figured there was no sense in putting off his waking any longer and rose unsteadily to a seated position.

"Easy there," Black Tiger said. She was crouched next to Mind Grind, but she approached him when she saw him up. They appeared to be in a small empty room with a single door. Given the metal grate across the narrow window he could tell it was a prison cell.

"Where are we?" he asked. It wasn't Control, they would have at least supplied a bathroom and maybe divided the men from the girl. Lunatak police were possible, though he couldn't imagine anything he'd done that would merit being here.

"You're all awake now," a voice on the other side of the door said. The door creaked open and a pair of Psions entered the room. One was tall, like all of his race, and had his hair cut short. Psychro got an uneasy vibe off this one, as though he were a man that was used to getting what he wanted by means that were best left unsaid. The other was a little skinnier, probably skinnier than was healthy, and seemed to be much more pale than his companion. His hair was tied back into a pony tail that dangled almost to his waist. It was the former who had spoken. "I've got good news for you genetic freaks, you all have new jobs. We're headed for a secret place where you will spend your time mining Caramium."

The word clearly meant nothing to the three, though the prospect of being slave labour did. Mind Grind started to stand, but the pasty one gestured with his hand and pinned him there. "The bad news," he said with a slight wheeze, "is that your life expectancy is about three months. Caramium is, tragically, very toxic to handle."

"Luckily for us, there's plenty of you freaks to do the work, eh Drell?" the creepy one chuckled. Psychro scowled, debating how quickly he and his companions could take out the Psions. Mental powers were tricky. One had to move very fast to beat the speed of thought.

"What do you mean freaks?" Black Tiger asked.

"Have you looked in the mirror? You're a freak of nature. An abhorrence to all that is decent." The girl blanched at his accusations, and realization began to dawn on Psychro.

They all had one thing in common. Their genetic makeup. A Psion/Graviton, a Darkling/Tiger, and a Psion/Icewalker. "Because we're hybrids? That's not a reason for kidnapping. We have as much value as..." Something was wrong. Ever since he was young Psychro had been able to get what he wanted, and it was thanks to his slight psionic power. A weak form of hypnosis that allowed him to sway opinions and convince people that he was telling the truth. But it wasn't there. Or rather, it was there but he couldn't access it.

"How quickly we divine the truth." The creepy one knelt in front of him, though he suspected it would be pointless to fight right now. The man tapped his forehead. "Telepath. I blocked off all your abilities, makes you freaks easier to control; so much more docile. I think you can those two away. I'm going to have some fun with this one."

The one named Drell gestured with one hand and the two Lunatak hybrids levitated off the floor, following the Psion out of the room. The door slammed shut and the discomfort level rose. "Now that we're alone, let me tell you what we have in store for you. My friends call me Myrik, but you can call me master. Our group has been operating quietly for the last number of years, cleansing the moons of all deviants, such as yourself. The powers of our people are being diluted. Take yourself, for example. Mild hypnosis, can change the temperature of your skin slightly. What's the point? A true Icewalker can breathe ice and shoot balls of fire. A true Psion, like myself, can control any mind. That little hypnosis trick gets you any girl you want, provided there's an interest to begin with. Me? I could have you wanting me, begging me to sex you up."

Psychro shuddered in revulsion. His only issue with homosexuality was that it decreased the pool of women available, while decreasing the competition for women. He'd never dabbled in it, and had no interest. "The problem we have is that Queen Luna doesn't quite see things our way. For years the advisors to the throne have been pure blooded Lunataks, but now..."


"Precisely. Your brother in law. We want him most of all, and you are able to give him to us. Give us access codes to the palace and we will let you go free," Myrik smiled in such a way that Psychro knew he couldn't trust him.

"Why don't you just read my mind?"

"Because. Making you betray your loved ones is so much more fun. Just remember, I offered you the easy way out." Myrik stood and walked out the door, leaving an ominous silence. Psychro felt more alone and helpless than he'd ever felt before.

When she finished telling what she had seen, Nuiane watched her master think about the implications, even as the ship suddenly slowed to a crawl. Although Nitro was reasonably high-ranking, he doubted that the Darkling captain would give him the information he required. For years their people and his own had been warring, until Luna united them under her rule. "Come with me, just in case," he said. She stepped aside and followed him up.

Far away Cameo of House Mymekon was just beginning to rouse. He untangled himself from the bed sheets, careful not to disturb his slumbering bond mate. Psikaris was particularly beautiful in the morning, her hair tousled, and her eyes flicking back and forth in her sleep as though she were reading a book. She might be, he thought, letting his gaze traverse her face to those sweet kissable lips. She was a bookworm, and the best damned engineer on the moon. Her pregnancy was starting to get in the way of all that, but she was determined to keep up to date on all the latest schematics.

He rose, slipping off his bedclothes and putting on his uniform. He was still commander of the Lunar fleet, and that meant he had duties to perform. It looked to be a clear morning, and that was good. He wondered what the day would hold.

The flight deck was bustling with activity when Nitro and Nuiane arrived. There was very little light, as the Darklings were accustomed to using infrared control panels. But through the large window, and on the view screen beneath it, they could see a Graviton freighter hanging motionless in space. "No response on radio," a voice to the side said.

"Several life readings, none of them moving. Power levels at normal."

So. Something had happened on that ship. Something that had incapacitated the crew and abandoned the craft. Why? Whatever it was had happened fast, as a damage report was given. The 'Vast Belly' was in perfect order. "Recommendations?" the captain asked. Glowing red eyes turned in Nitro's direction, showing that he had finally noticed the intruder.

"We should board it. Investigate to see if we can figure out what happened," another officer said. "One or two only, in case it's some kind of plague."

Nitro saw a glint of teeth in the dim light. "We'll need to send that Psion to unlock the airlock, but he needs a keeper. Someone expendable. Would you care to volunteer?" the captain asked him. It was an obvious insult, but Nitro chose to ignore it.

"You get me to the airlock and I'll make sure he co-operates." He made his voice stay strong. Truth was, he wasn't nearly as confident as he made out to be. It was potentially dangerous, and adding a felon like Mystan wasn't going to make things any easier. There was no love lost between them, and Mystan might just take advantage of a situation. "Nuiane, you stay with Gravica. Those are her people over there." He also wanted her away from the danger, if there was any. Despite the gossip, he really did care about his women. Cared more about them than the Icewalker woman he had bonded for the sake of public perception.

"Yes master," she replied, kissing him lightly.

Trying to make note of where they were going, Black Tiger soon realized such a venture was a lost cause. The halls all looked identical, and she suspected that Drell was intentionally taking a circuitous route. Occasionally they passed a strange almost canine Mutant looking creature, all armed with guns, but that didn't give her any clue as to where they were or where they were going. Finally they arrived at a door blocked by a lumbering Icewalker. The woman stepped aside and opened the door. Black Tiger found herself in a room almost identical to the one that she and Mind Grind had been taken from. "Two more for the collection," Drell said, to the Icewalker as he released his telekinetic hold.

Black Tiger sprawled on the ground, glaring at her captor. She rushed the door as it closed and banged her fist on it. The Icewalker woman breathed a cold mist at her, forcing Black Tiger to retreat to the back of the cell. It was then that she noticed a young woman, a Psion mixed with Cheetah from the looks of it, already present. "Welcome to your new home. Enjoy it while it lasts. I hear we're not going to like the destination," she said. The half Cheetah didn't bother moving, already defeated and accepting a grim death. Hopelessness began to overwhelm Black Tiger and she began to sob.

Mystan was not prone to bursts of emotion. Generally speaking he found them to be a waste of time and only served to weaken the mind. Emotions had uses, of course, provided that one were capable of harnessing them, but it was far better to not bother at all. Even still, hearing the hated Nitro admit that he was needed solicited a ghost of a smile.

The Icewalker opened the cell door and led the way from the cargo hold. Somewhere up there, the pilot was skilfully navigating the two ships as close as he could before extending the tube of the airlock. Once the tube was connected, it was Mystan's turn. He closed his eyes, casting his spiritual self out of his body. He let his mind drift further, seamlessly drifting through the walls of both ships.

Mechanics weren't his specialty, he had other people who looked after that sort of thing, but he knew the basics. There was a button beside the airlock too, which helped. Carefully he pushed it and the freighter's door opened. With his primary task complete, Mystan returned to his body. "Shall we then?" he inquired, gesturing.

It was more than a little eerie to walk on to the ghost ship. The lights were still on, and nothing seemed outwardly wrong. But there was something wrong. They found the first victim in the middle of the hallway. A Graviton who had probably been carrying the pieces of paper that were now on the floor. He was face down and wearing a gaudy purple and green outfit that clashed wildly with his orange hair. Nitro knelt beside him and carefully checked for vital signs. "He's alive," he reported. With a little difficulty, Nitro rolled him on to his side. There was the beginning of a bruise on his forehead, but otherwise there didn't seem to be anything wrong. The eyes were glazed over, and drool puddled from his lips.

"A psychic attack," Mystan murmured. His eyes were closed in concentration, doing some sort of Psion trick. Nitro fought back the instinctive urge to hit him. He'd heard of this kind of thing and Mystan would know better than anyone else he had access to how to undo it. "It's not lethal. Someone wanted the crew incapacitated, but not killed. I estimate his body will recover naturally in a few hours."

Nitro nodded and passed this information on the Darkling ship. They would continue on through the Vast Belly, and investigate some more. It was possible that this was an isolated case, but such a devastating attack would explain why the ship was just hanging in space. Was the intruder still around? That was the question that lurked in his head. It didn't seem likely, as they hadn't found any signs of other ships in the immediate area. "Can you block an attack?" he asked, opening doors as they went.

A female Graviton, her hair almost as tall as she was wide, had obviously been up on a ladder, as she lay sprawled at the base, arm twisted awkwardly. He didn't envy her when she woke up. "It depends on how powerful they are. Hmm... Same as the other. Very efficient of them." Nitro didn't like the note of admiration in his voice, but let it slide. They would need to see the bridge, find out if the scanners had picked up anything.

Stepping into his office, a pile of paper collected from his secretary, Cameo settled at his desk. Behind him, visible through the large window, was the primary landing area for the city of Lunis. As it usually was, it was bustling with activity. There were cargo ships being unloaded, a squadron of fighters refuelling, a passenger ship was waiting for some last stragglers. Everything seemed so normal, which made him feel proud that he seemed to be doing a good job. He supposed, strictly speaking, that the passenger ship and cargo freighter weren't his department, but he technically outranked the man in charge of the space port.

He skimmed through the paperwork. There was a formal request for the promotion of one of the pilots. His squad had lost their second in command and the pilot in question was the best they had. It sounded plausible, and he figured he should trust the squad leader's recommendation. They would also need a new pilot to fill the vacant slot. He made a note on a pad to look into the training facility and see if there were any solo pilots around.

There was a reminder that an Icewalker squad was going to be doing training exercises near the Royal Moon, as well as an invitation to a banquet being held for Luna's advisors. While Cameo enjoyed many things, being at these formal gatherings was rather tiring. All in all he figured it was much more pleasant to hang out in a more relaxed and casual environment.

"Cameo?" Erillis, his secretary, timidly knocked on the door. He saw her hand shaking and knew that there was something wrong. "There's a transmission on line two for you. I'll get your ship ready."

He swallowed hard. Something so bad that she would make sure his personal ship was fuelled and ready to go. He activated his viewer and saw a Darkling's face on the monitor. There was a time delay of about an hour, but that didn't matter. The subject matter spoke volumes. An incident on the 'Vast Belly'. Found lifeless in space. Unknown attacker. More reports to follow.

Time seemed to slow for Cameo as a million questions raced through his head. He wasn't the president of the Psychro fan club by any stretch, but he was family and he could be charming when the mood struck him. Psikaris, on the other hand... Siblings were naturally close, twins more so, but those two fit the description to a tee. If anything had happened to Psychro it would be devastating to 'Karis.

Sprinting out the door, Cameo raced to his waiting ship. Erillis had even arranged for a trio of smaller fighters to escort him out, and a pilot to fly it. His ship held four people, and was the newest model. Heavily armoured but exceedingly quick, only the best for someone of his standing. The engine had already been primed, so all Cameo had to do was put on his safety harness and they were off.

"No need to check this one," Nitro said as they approached the bridge. A Psion lay across the hall in a pool of his own blood. Most of the blood, he assumed, came from the heavy ceiling tile that had landed on him. There was also a streak of blood, probably from the Psion, across the top of the tile.

Mystan pushed past Nitro, and knelt by the man. "On the contrary. This is exactly what we need. I know you don't trust me, but you're going to need to here. I don't have much time so I'll explain quickly. When a person dies, there's a window where someone can still read their mind. I'm going to project the thoughts into both of our heads."

He was right. Nitro didn't trust him. This smelled of a nasty trick, and he really didn't want any part of it. What if he was telling the truth, though, what if there was a way to see what had happened. Certainly it would be useful to see. Mystan didn't wait for permission. Suddenly Nitro's mind was bombarded with images.

He was in the mess hall, feeling a wave of disgust over the menu selections. There seemed to be grease in everything, including the water. And the alcohol choice was beer. Luckily he had come prepared and kept a small bottle of wine in his room for emergency. He would need it, too. A trio of Gravitons were being boisterous, telling crude jokes. "How is a woman like a chicken? They are both delicious smothered een gravy!" one shouted to the raucous laughter of his mates.

The laughing stopped. He looked up and saw that the trio had collapsed. People at other tables began collapsing. Instantly a mental shield went up, it was buffeted against by some unseen force, but it held. He stood from his seat and stared around the room. Everyone was out, some kind of mental assault. He might be able to revive them but... The captain! He needed to know what was happening. Praying that he wasn't too late he sprinted through the halls, past the occasional body. He was going to be too late.

Another corner, up the elevator, wishing that the damned thing would move faster. His mind told him that there had to be invaders on board. Who and how many? The door hissed open and he looked down the long hall to the bridge. No one yet. That was a positive sign. Further he ventured, there was no noise coming from the bridge. Slowly he opened the door and saw three Gravitons and the girl, the Darkling/Tiger, on the ground. So, the mental assault had happened here too, as he'd feared.

Nothing but to revive as many as he could and hope for the best. A noise. The sound of a door opening and closing, along with a pair of voices. He turned, saw the pair. A Psion and a Darkling. "The girl's in there. I'll take care of this one," the Psion said.

"You'll have to get past me first," he replied. Fire blossomed from his fingertips. His pyrokinesis wasn't as good as some, but it was all he had.

"Not much of challenge," the Darkling said. The corridor went pitch black, even with the fire, and he cursed. He tried to direct the fire in the direction that he had seen the pair, but had the air knocked out of him by something large. Whatever it was had him pinned on his stomach and was crushing him slowly. Ribs cracked, his lungs were punctured. This wasn't how he wanted to die. The darkness vanished and the Darkling stepped on whatever it was that held him. Blood burbled from his lips. He coughed and more blood flecked the steel floor. The Darkling walked across him again, this time carrying the Darkling/Tiger over his shoulder. He didn't see anything else as his eyes began to close.

Nitro staggered backwards, his back hitting the wall. To experience death like that was highly unnerving. He straightened himself and decked Mystan. "Don't you ever do something like that again," he snarled. No matter how useful the information was, it was still a violation of his mind. He made a note to let Luna know what had happened so that there might be further punishment.

"We got what we needed, didn't we?" Mystan sneered.

He didn't bother responding. There wasn't any point, it would only fan Mystan's ego to admit that he was right. "I didn't recognize them. Did you?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Not at all, and I know many of the powerful Psions. When I get back to the home moon I'll pass the images around." Nitro contacted the Darkling ship to let them know, adding that Mystan would gratefully pass the image to them too. Perhaps there was an artist on board who might be able to copy it down.

All that was left was to take the ship back to Lunar space and see if they could figure out why the girl had been targetted.

"Anymore pick ups today?" Captain Shiner asked, not bothering to turn as Drell stepped on to the command deck. In a semi-circle around him, his minions went about their duties. They weren't the greatest in the galaxy, but they were cheap slave labour. Not that he particularly cared, but he suspected that their species had originally come from Plundarr. They resembled, somewhat the Jackalmen that he'd seen there, anyway.

"No. We got what we came for. Just take us to our ship and we'll give you the other half of your money," Drell replied. The mercenary captain smiled broadly. Money made him happy, and for such easy work too. This particular Lunatak had enlisted his help a number of times to ambush unwary ships, and all he had to do was be a distraction from the real danger. Otherwise he was a glorified chauffeur.

He gave the order to his men, to swing around and rendezvous with a ship orbiting the sixth planet in the Plundarr system.

Cameo skimmed the reports as they came in. The Darkling captain, a Nightwave, was being very thorough in his updates. It sounded like Nitro was piloting the Graviton freighter to establish a meeting sooner. So far, though it was far from confirmed yet, there was only one fatality and one person missing, with no news at all about Psychro. That was a positive sign, wasn't it? There was hope that he was still alive?

No. He couldn't afford to think like that. While there was personal investment in the situation, Cameo had to remain focussed. Black Tiger had family. The Psion who had perished also had family. Each and every single one of those people on that ship had families and friends who cared whether they got home safely, not just Psychro.

He had, however, avoided sending a transmission back to Psikaris, telling himself that he didn't want to unduly upset her until he knew for certain. He was scared, and deep down wanted to be there in person when he told her. But he also had a duty to find out what was happening in his jurisdiction. Cameo ran a hand through his white hair and glanced up through the window. In the distance he could make out the two large ships headed his way.

How much time had passed? Psychro tried to gauge based on gut feelings. By now, surely, someone had noticed their absence. He couldn't have gone from the mess hall to here without someone knowing. And what about Black Tiger? She had been heading to the bridge. Had she made it there?

Which meant there was a strong chance that Psikaris knew. That wasn't going to be good. He knew her. She would stress herself over it, which would be compounded by her pregnancy. She would worry herself sick, and would desperately need Cameo to be an anchor for her emotions.

Cameo. He could get free, and all he had to do was betray Cameo. Except that wasn't an option. Even if Psychro were inclined to believe that Myrik would let him go in exchange he couldn't do it. He had enough pride that he wouldn't let anyone else take the fall to save his own neck. Psychro wasn't overly fond of Cameo, but he'd started to accept him, to trust that he would take care of his sister.

And what of Psikaris? If Cameo were captured, what would they do if they found his bond mate with him? They would probably take her too, make her work in their mines or kill her outright. If hybrid children were their sticking point, then they probably wouldn't allow another two to be brought into the world. That settled that for sure. Even if he was willing to let them take Cameo, there was no way in hell that Psychro would allow his little sister to be captured as well, and if they did hurt her, there was no limit to the wrath he would wreak.

Watching the door wasn't very exciting. Black Tiger had seen Mind Grind taken away about an hour ago. She tried asking the half Cheetah about it, but had only been answered with tear-reddened eyes and a cryptic "I feel so sorry for you." It didn't quite inspire confidence. She turned to look at her room mate. She was quiet, staring at her knees which were tucked up to her chest. She wore a simple dark blue outfit, but her Cheetah features were prominent. Black Tiger had to look closely to see the Psion features, but once she saw them, they were obvious.

She wondered what the woman had gone through already to be so defeated. Then again, knowing nothing about her, maybe she was always like this. Maybe her life was one long sequence of this kind of thing. Her own childhood had been uneasy. Life on the Dark Moon of Plundarr was tough, even for the natives. The thick jungles teemed with life, a lot of it bent on eating you, and only the frequent patrols kept the creatures from venturing too close to the cities.

The Darklings were much like their cousins on the other moons; they despised outsiders, and breeding with them was considered abhorrent. In fact, of all the moons they were probably the most closed-minded, seconded by the Psions. Black Tiger remembered her childhood being full of intolerance and hatred. It was one of the reasons she had delved into writing, it was an escape. Many of her early works were horribly written, involving heroines who resembled her or a dashing Darkling man who didn't care about her background.

It was her father who showed that there was goodness in her kin. Stalker, now commander of the military forces on Third Earth, had loved her regardless of who she was. He made sure that his home was a sanctuary of love and peace, even going so far as to force family members to leave if they couldn't accept her.

But what if the half Cheetah hadn't had that kind of stabilizing force? Is this what she would look like if her father hadn't been the man he was? The other woman caught her staring. "What?" It was less a question than a statement.

"Sorry. I just wondered who you were. Doesn't look like we've got many friends around here," she replied.

"Friends? Wait until it's your turn to go through that door. You'll see what friends await you." There was a long silence and the Psi-Cheetah turned her attention back to her knees. Black Tiger resigned herself to ignorance until she spoke again. "Look, it's been a long day. You deserve better. The name's Chedra. A word of advice when they do come for you. Don't fight it. You can't win."

The woman, Chedra apparently, pulled her leggings up over the knee to reveal the start of large bruises, wincing in pain as she did so. Black Tiger gasped at the sight and fresh horror filled her throat.

As though on cue, the door opened. Mind Grind, his shirt in tatters and a thin trickle of blood coming from his nose, stumbled in. A Darkling pointed at her, in a manner that suggested he wasn't going to ask twice. Chedra's words echoing through her head, the evidence of what might await her, Black Tiger stood and followed reluctantly behind the man. "Remember what I said," Chedra called, as the door slammed shut.

Cameo stood on the bridge of the Darkling ship, the lights brought to an acceptable level for his sake, with Nitro and the two captains. Mystan had long been taken back to his holding cell, once his testimony had been given. Nitro had been asked to stay at Cameo's behest, given his significant rank on the Ice Moon. The Icewalker was also friends with Luna, and his opinion would carry some weight, especially since Cameo didn't trust his own opinions at the present time.

The crew had awakened a little quicker than anticipated, and a passenger manifest had revealed the three disappearances. What did it mean? Had someone been targeting only the non-Gravitons onboard? Why kill Sirilus but capture Mind Grind, Black Tiger, and Psychro? But then, Sirilus hadn't been the target, he had gotten in the way, which meant that if he hadn't blocked the assault that he might be alive.

They might not have images of the attackers either. "We'll contact Third Earth and let them know we're going to be delayed," the Graviton captain said.

"We'll let you go as soon as we can. Third Earth needs those supplies," Cameo assured him. But he wasn't thinking of that. He was thinking of the four other calls that would need to be made. Families to be informed. Including the woman who was waiting for him on the Royal Moon. "I'll also talk to Luna about increasing patrols in the system, check to see if there are reports of other abductions, and the like. We also need to track down the Vertis. They might not have been involved, but they might have seen something."

"And then we wait for ransom demands," Nitro said, startling Cameo. There was an angle he hadn't considered. Certainly Black Tiger and Psychro had connections with higher ranked people, Mind Grind might too. It was worth looking into.

There was another connection, something which niggled at the back of his head. A report had come across his desk about a disappearance off the Royal Moon. A woman had collapsed in a shop and awakened to find her date missing. He'd been a Graviton/Psion, which was disturbingly fitting the other pattern. "Were there any others on your ship who were hybrid Lunataks?" he asked.

"No. None at all. You theenk that's what they were looking for?" the Graviton asked.

"Anything is possible, but that's very likely. All right, let's get back to the Royal Moon. We'll stick together just in case whoever it is still in the area." Cameo turned and headed back to his ship. He swallowed hard as a grim realization hit; if the enemy was in the area, then there was only one person who matched their criteria. Himself.

She was led a few doors down to a simple room. It consisted of a bunk bed along one wall a table, two chairs, and a computer terminal. The telepath she'd seen earlier was there, and he seemed to smile a predatory smile. He gestured to the unoccupied chair and Black Tiger sat on it. The Darkling who had brought her in stood, blocking the exit. There was something about that one, a strange look in his dark eyes. Something that said he didn't want to be around for whatever was about to happen. This alone made her grateful he was there and gave her some measure of hope.

The telepath brought her attention back to him by activating the computer. He tapped a few keys, and regarded her closely. What was he doing? Was he reading her mind? Was she expected to say something? He typed a little more and then leaned back in his chair. "My name is Myrik, I'll be conducting your interview. Much of this is a formality really, we know a lot about you. State your name and parents. Species, age, gender."

Chedra had said not to resist, besides it sounded like it was all information they already knew. "I'm Black Tiger. My father is Stalker and my mother is Tygrine. I'm a seventeen year old Darkling/Tiger girl."

"Ah yes. That was quite the scandalous marriage, wasn't it Raven?" Myrik asked, glancing over his shoulder. Raven spat on the floor in response. "He doesn't say very much. Now, what are your abilities?"

"My what?" she hesitated. He took her hand in his and traced the palm with a sharp fingernail.

"Tigers can often create illusions, Darklings can control the dark among other things. They both involve bending light. What watered down version do you have?"

His fingernail was distracting her, and more than a little unnerving. Chedra and Mind Grind had both been physically assaulted. She was likely to receive similar. It was just a question of when and in what manner. "Why does that matter? You blocked our powers," she said before she could stop herself. The nail dug into her tender skin and she cried out as her blood began to seep around his embedded finger.

"Answer the question, little one. Sometimes you genetic mistakes prove useful enough to keep away from the radiation. It might extend your life, so I ask again, what are your abilities?" he asked.

She wanted to yank her hand away, but suspected that would only make things worse. "I can change the light around me a little. Make it brighter or darker." He let go of her hand but stared hard at her when she tried to tend to it.

Black Tiger felt him in her head, she couldn't think of a better way to describe it. "There. I removed the block. Show me." Like lightning her mind questioned whether this was a trick. It had to be, didn't it? And yet she saw the price of disobedience. Carefully, though she preferred to keep this man within sight, she closed her eyes and concentrated. She'd been encouraged to try and harness the power, to test its limits. Her father had always said that it might grow stronger when she got older, but she'd seen little evidence. She opened her eyes and found that it was a little brighter, like flicking on an extra light bulb.

The room returned to normal as he put the mental block back in place. "Useless power. Raven, show her how it's done." The room went pitch black, all light swallowed up. She tried to pick out even the crack of the door, but nothing. She jerked her head to the side. Someone was moving around. Her heart hammered in her chest, fear beginning to mount. What was he going to do to her. How did one brace for a blow that could come from any direction. Suddenly his hands were on her shoulders, the shock of it causing her to scream. Light returned and she heard Myrik laughing. "Healthy set of lungs, but it was worth it. You see what a true blooded Darkling can do. And so focussed that he was able put the area of darkness just over your eyes. Compared to him, you're pathetic. I just have a few more questions for you, then."

It was a graceless tumble. Black Tiger hit the floor just inside the doorway and rolled over onto her back to stare helplessly at the closing door. Myrik had been neither patient nor gentle as she found herself increasingly unable to answer his questions. It wasn't her fault that she didn't know her father's passwords or top secret information about the company he kept. Myrik had learned that she was a writer, one of her few joys, and threatened to break her hands completely if she didn't co-operate.

She stared at her hands, tiny pin pricks marred each finger tip, in addition to the gouge in the palm. When he saw that physical intimidation wasn't going to get him answers, mostly because she didn't have them, he had gotten rid of her. She wondered why, if he was so powerful, that he didn't just read her mind. It didn't make sense, but then she figured he got a sick thrill out of torture. Chedra glanced over somewhat sympathetically, and returned to staring at her legs. Mind Grind was asleep. His head was turned and she could see a faint discolouration on his scalp.

Black Tiger wondered about the connection. Myrik went after body parts that the victim valued. A Cheetah, even a half-Cheetah, would value their legs, they liked speed and being without their usage would cause unhappiness. On herself she was a writer, she needed her hands to execute her craft. That was why he had threatened to take them away. It was a crazy theory, and one she couldn't quite associate with Mind Grind, though she supposed his Psion half might make him inclined to enjoy his brain. Assuming she was right, what would Myrik do to Psychro?

Alone at last, Myrik shut down the computer and settled on his bunk. It wouldn't be a long trip to their ship, nor from the ship to their base, but he figured he had a chance for some relaxation. Drell would want a progress report, and he'd probably grouse about the inefficiency of Myrik's methods. The difference was that he always got the desired results in the end, and got some personal satisfaction out of it too.

Besides, a lot of the money that was coming in was thanks in part to Myrik. Back on the Psion Moon he had managed to accrue wealth. He donated enough money to the high priests to keep the politicians from looking too closely into his activities. Activities which Drell had stumbled across one evening. Neighbours for a long time, Drell found Myrik disposing of a prostitute. Instead of turning him in to the authorities, Drell had suggested turning his attentions to those more worthy of Myrik's attentions.

Half-breeds, disgusting creatures, good for little other than menial labour and the occasional bed warmer. In fact, there was one waiting for him back at their base. A young Psion Tiger cross. Torture always seemed to arouse him, and dealing with such specimens made him eager to return home.

It was Psychro's fault. Myrik tended to prefer women, but the occasional male excited him too. Certainly sex would be a weapon against Psychro, but he needed to prolong it with that one. There was little doubt in his mind that Psychro would be his in the end, but a man like that was so much more enjoyable when they were willing and submissive. Breaking him would be difficult, but fun.

Were he so inclined, Mystan would acknowledge a certain amount of indignity at being shunted off to his prison cell. He had been useful, had done as he'd been asked. But then he was accustomed to such brutish behaviour from the lesser moons, and weightier issues were going round and round in his mind. This jaunt had been nothing more than a brief reprieve from his sentence. His brain would be altered soon, his powers cut off completely.

The Psion in Sirilus' vision was also a quandary. Who was he? He certainly seemed to have a reasonable amount of power. While Mystan was largely a telekinetic, he knew of telepaths who would have difficulty accomplishing what had been done. Perhaps he augmented his powers. The Psion people had long learned how to harvest psionic energy from the brains of the deceased, perhaps this one had something similar. He decided that one of his first acts upon arrival on the moon would be to give a complete report. If they could assist in this investigation, it might earn the favour of the crown, after all.

Still standing impassively, watching each of his men in turn, Captain Shiner spared the briefest of glances on Drell. "Your ship," he noted, gesturing with his head to the view screen. Indeed, the nondescript Graviton transport vessel was visible and clearly ready to receive its owners.

"Excellent. The other half of your payment is on the ship. We'll give it to you when we unload our cargo," Drell replied.

"What cargo?" Captain Shiner tapped the side of his nose. Just because he knew what was happening didn't mean he had to acknowledge that it had. The Psion chuckled and nodded his agreement.

"Wakey, wakey," the sing song voice called out. Groggily Psychro opened his eyes, rubbing them with the back of his hand. He wasn't even aware of having fallen asleep. The journey and the stress must have been more overwhelming than he'd thought. As his eyes focussed he realized it was Myrik in the room, come to fetch him personally. He stood, feigning obedience, and then lunged. His fist cracked against the Psion's jaw, sending him reeling for a second. It felt good. Frustration and anger had been locked away for too long.

It had also been too long since he'd been involved in a physical confrontation. While he preferred the bar room brawl, he'd been known to take part in the odd official combat. He closed the gap between himself and Myrik, intent on making his face unrecognizable. No one messed with him or his family and got away with it. But he found he couldn't move. It happened so suddenly that Psychro didn't feel the mental intrusion. "A feisty one, eh?" Myrik rubbed his cheek. "I underestimated you. That won't happen again. Come along, we have a shuttle to catch."

His limbs began moving of their own accord. Walking behind the disgusting Lunatak. The very act was a taunt, baring his back to the captive, a back that he would gladly ram a knife into if he had the opportunity.

"Such a lack of creativity," Myrik said over his shoulder. "Believe me. You'll be thinking differently by the time I'm through."

Cameo's ship peeled off from the rest as the Royal Moon came into view. "That's right, Beero. We're doing everything we can to find your brother. I promise you, on my honour," Cameo said. His second transmission done. It wasn't easy. He'd decided to contact Tycho, governor of Third Earth, and asked him to relay the necessary message to Stalker. He also asked the man if there had been any disappearances there. He wasn't sure how far a reach this group had, but the sooner he got any information, the better. That left two more. One more trial run before the challenge of telling his bond mate about her brother. "This is Cameo of House Mymekon, captain of the royal fleet to the Psion Moon. I need to speak with the kin of Sirilus Psiman..."

Black Tiger's gasped when she saw Psychro being brought into the little room. Like she, Chedra, and Mind Grind had been, he was shackled to the bench they were sitting on. He didn't look worse for wear, certainly none of the bruising or signs of beatings. Then again, she supposed that she wouldn't if her theory was right, if they had targeted his groin.

She didn't know why he had been kept apart from them. But then, what had Myrik said? That sometimes their lives could be prolonged if they were deemed useful. Was Psychro in that category perhaps? Given the way Myrik stared at them, she didn't think that longer life was worth the price. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"I've been better," he replied. "I'm sorry I got you in to this."

Her temper flared for an instant. He was the cause of all this? She shook in her chains. "You piece of Mutant droppings," she snapped.

Myrik's hearty chuckle reminded her that she wasn't alone. "How noble. Don't fool yourself, Psychro. It's only a matter of time until all these genetic freaks are our slaves. If it wasn't today, it would be tomorrow. In fact, we've got another group leaving tomorrow." For some reason Myrik found that incredibly funny and she tried to refocus her anger. Even if Psychro was responsible, he certainly hadn't intended it. He seemed contrite enough. No, the source of her misery was the one standing across from her with the goofy grin plastered on his face.

Some day, she swore, she would get free. Then she would see who was laughing.

On the Psion Moon, Mystan gazed at the gorgeous city of his birth. A moon comprised mostly of desert, the capital sprawled around a large lake. In the centre of the lake was the temple, the seat of power on the moon. It was also his destination. There were no escorts waiting for him, no guards. They knew, all Psions knew, that resisting the will of the high priests was tantamount to resisting the will of the gods. He would be there, they knew, and he didn't bother delaying the inevitable. Calmly he walked through the streets, watching with pleasure as people bowed out of his way.

Elsewhere, Nitro had an draped over the shoulders of both his female companions. He had been away from home for too long. There were a few minor affairs to take care of, but he intended to keep informed on what was going on with the investigation. Although he didn't care much for the boy, he did have a son with mixed race heritage, and no one threatened his family or his people.

The apartment was quiet when Cameo entered. Things were neat and organized, by and large. Psikaris had obviously felt inclined to do some cleaning as her stack of mechanical magazines had been organized. She was in her workshop, her home within her home. Some kind of device lay in pieces, the victim of a broken propellor. There was a small box of purple and green jellied tarts that she had acquired a taste for. They came from the Psion moon and contained a sweet berry and fish mixture. He couldn't stand the things, but they were considered a delicacy.

"You're home early," she commented, taking the time to put a screwdriver away before turning to meet his face. He might as well have written the news on his face with a magic marker. "Oh no. What's wrong? Something's happened to Psychro, hasn't it?"

"'Karis. We don't know." He took her hand and helped her off the stool and into the livingroom. As he helped her down to the couch he continued. "He's been abducted, along with a few others. I've got plenty of theories with very few details..."

As he told the story, explaining everything he knew, he watched her reactions. She wrapped her arms around his waist, body shaking heavily, her head buried in the crook of his neck. "I promise you. I am going to do everything in my power to bring him home safely," he said. "And whoever did this will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In the meantime, I'm going to arrange for personal security, for both of us. If someone *has* been going through the bother of abducting hybrids then they might try something on us too."

She tilted her head to meet his determined gaze. "Thank you," she managed. It came out as a whisper, but he understood. He didn't want to lose her, and she felt the same.

Kissing her forehead gently, he reluctantly broke the embrace. There was still plenty of work to do, and little time to do it in if he was going to keep his word. He activated the view screen. "This is Cameo. I need to speak to Luna. It's bad news."

On to Purification - part two
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