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Ayers: The Mindguard Saga, #3
Ayers: The Mindguard Saga, #3
Ayers: The Mindguard Saga, #3
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Ayers: The Mindguard Saga, #3

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AYERS is a prequel to THE MINDGUARD SAGA. Set a few months before the events of MINDGUARD, it can be read as a stand-alone or at any point in the series.

 

In the corrupt city of Mei Jhabo, a mysterious new thoughtenhancer has devastating effects on the consumer's brain. Its emergence is linked to the sudden rise of one of the city's most violent drug gangs. Leading the fight against it, Commissioner Celia Wallace employs the services of the famous Ayers-Ross Thoughtprotection Agency. Their mission: retrieve an undercover agent sent to infiltrate the gang and protect the information inside his mind.

For ambitious young telepath Alex Lea, this seems like the perfect opportunity to prove that he is a worthy successor to his idol, legendary Mindguard Sheldon Ayers. But, in this profession, the course of things can change in an instant.

After an ambush leaves him separated from his team, Alex must learn to become his own guardian first. Pushed to the limits of his ability, he comes across an enemy far more dangerous than anyone suspects and a plot that threatens the safety of the entire Federation.

LanguageEnglish
Release dateDec 23, 2016
ISBN9781386269069
Ayers: The Mindguard Saga, #3
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    Ayers - Andrei Cherascu

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    Subscribe to my Newsletter to get your free copy of Humanity of One, a novella serving as an epilogue to Ayers. The digital version of this story is available exclusively to Newsletter subscribers.

    By joining the mailing list, you will also be notified of future releases and special promotions. You can unsubscribe at any time if you wish to stop receiving the Newsletter.

    To the memory of Picky,

    Because our souls are one.

    Table of Contents

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    Prologue

    Chapter 0

    Chapter 1

    Chapter 2

    Chapter 3

    Chapter 4

    Chapter 5

    Chapter 6

    Chapter 7

    Chapter 8

    Chapter 9

    Chapter 10

    Chapter 11

    Chapter 12

    Chapter 13

    Chapter 14

    Chapter 15

    Chapter 16

    Chapter 17

    Chapter 18

    Chapter 19

    Chapter 20

    Chapter 21

    Chapter 22

    Chapter 23

    Chapter 24

    Chapter 25

    Chapter 26

    Chapter 27

    Chapter 28

    Chapter 29

    Prologue

    Pessora Jungle, Rho Massa

    January 19, 2324, Terra Antiqua Standard Calendar

    The outcome was never in doubt. Once he found them, their fate was sealed. He would cripple their operation, burn down everything they’d built and seize everything they owned. He would feed their bodies to the animals. But he had to find them in time — Sheldon’s life depended on it.

    Deep inside, he knew it was too late. He tried not to think about it. He was there now and he needed to focus on the only thing that mattered: bringing pain and death to the men who had hurt his best friend.

    Damn it, Sheldon, Maclaine Ross growled as he exited the cover of the trees and opened fire on the rebel forces. His men reacted as though he had just said, Attack! From behind their leader, they spread out, shooting with purpose. Mac’s orders had been clear – Take no prisoners!

    They had captured Sheldon. Recklessly, he had walked right into their trap. Mac knew he shouldn’t have allowed him to participate in a mission so soon after Kinsey’s death, but how could you tell a man like Sheldon that you didn’t trust his judgement? It was impossible, even for Mac. Damn it, Sheldon, he repeated to himself. The way things were going this would soon become the company motto.

    Mindguards who were captured by the enemy did not survive. There was no reason to keep them alive. They were the only thing standing between the captors and the information package they sought. So they were promptly executed. Every time.

    Mac knew he was deluding himself, but he had to tell himself that Sheldon was still alive. He had to do it so he could maintain enough sanity to punish the murderers.

    He screamed with rage as he shot at his enemies. Energy blasts burned through their flesh, tearing frightful cries from dying throats. Their own weapons barely slowed him down. He enjoyed seeing their terrified expressions as they realized they couldn’t harm him. For their level of firepower, his body was virtually indestructible. His mind, meanwhile, was under the impregnable protection of Isabel Mensah, who was a few feet behind him, flanked by a Rho Massa military task force.

    As Mac advanced unharmed by their attack, the rebels froze in place for just a moment, unsure of whether they should try to fight or flee the raging giant hurtling toward them. It did not prove a difficult decision.

    Some sought cover behind the buildings, where they were swiftly taken down by the other Bodyguards. Others tried to vanish into the jungle, where they were met by military fire.

    Sheldon dead.

    Even in the turmoil of the firefight, a part of Mac’s mind couldn’t help but imagine being at his best friend’s funeral, delivering the eulogy, telling strangers about Sheldon’s life. What was there to say? What could he say that they would even understand?

    Goodbye, Sheldon, this imaginary Mac said, throwing a piece of gravel into the grave of the man he loved like a brother. He knew that the fantasy was ridiculous — Sheldon had chosen to donate his body to science — but imagination was a mysterious mechanism, even for a former Mindguard.

    Goodbye, my sweet, cherished friend. With those words, Mac also said goodbye to the world.

    Amid enemy fire, with his body absorbing shots and healing almost instantly, he dropped his weapon and let out a grieving howl that must have frightened the rebels more than whatever beasts roamed this jungle at night. They no longer looked like dangerous freedom fighters, but scared little boys. Regardless of what they’d feared most in life, Mac would make sure that, before their dying breath, they would fear him more.

    As his team fired mercilessly, turning trees to ashes and men to meat, he leapt towards the man nearest him. The rebel’s eyes widened as Mac’s enormous hands wrapped around his neck. Mac wanted to ask him where they had buried Sheldon or thrown his carcass away to rot, but the temptation to kill him was too great. He gave in.

    Forgive me, Father, he prayed, as he delighted in the feeling of crushing his enemy’s throat. All of their lives as payment for Sheldon’s — that was how it was going to be. He didn’t care about the Defense Minister’s orders. He didn’t care about the government of Rho Massa. He didn’t even care about the mission. There was no more mission. Sheldon was dead!

    Another man jumped him with a knife and Mac almost had to laugh. He grabbed the blade in the palm of his hand, thriving on the pain, knowing that the wound would close within seconds. He seized the knife and drove it into the man’s skull, enjoying the warm feeling of blood on his fingers. Around him, he heard cries of pain. His mind quickly registered that none of the voices belonged to his teammates. Good, he thought, lunging at another enemy.

    In his auditory insertions, the voice of one of his Bodyguards, Francois Gaultier, announced – They’ve given up the base and are trying to flee. Around him, men were thoughtlessly scattering left and right, like wildebeests ambushed by a pack of hungry lions.

    One of the rebels jumped Mac and tried to place him in a chokehold. Mac threw him off with ease and the man squealed as his body hit the ground with bone-crushing force. He tried to crawl away but Mac grabbed him by his uniform, pulled him to his feet and wrapped his right hand around his face, squeezing it like a vise.

    What did you do to my Mindguard? he tried to articulate, though what came out was more growl than speech. The man’s response was a scream, as Mac’s strength sent death signals through the nerve endings in his head.

    What did you do to my Mindguard? Mac repeated, more coherently this time, though the man was likely deafened by the throbbing pain. The look in his eyes suggested his brain was no longer in the condition to produce coherent thoughts. Deeming him useless, Mac squeezed harder. He couldn’t hear the cracking noises, but he could feel them in every tactile receptor on his skin as the osseous tissue caved and his fingers dove into the mush that was now the man’s skull.

    As a devout man of God, Mac knew the graveness of his crimes and was prepared to face the moral consequences. God didn’t matter now – only Sheldon.

    Isabel Mensah’s voice snapped him out of his rampage. Sheldahn’s here, she said with an enthusiasm Mac had never before heard in her speech. He’s alive!

    What? Mac asked in a quivering voice. Isabel, what?

    Sheldahn’s here, shouted the usually composed Mindguard. He’s alive, Mac, I can feel his thought timbre. But it is very weak.

    Mac started running towards her as his men pushed the rebels further back into the jungle, forcing them to abandon their outpost. The military could deal with them from there. As far as Mac was concerned, the part of the mission that included the Ayers-Ross Thoughtprotection Agency was finished. He couldn’t care less if anyone else agreed with him.

    Where? Where is he? he desperately called out.

    What about the Carrier? asked Francois, demonstrating a level of professionalism of which his Team Leader was no longer capable.

    I can’t feel the Carrier’s timbre, Isabel replied. Only Sheldahn’s. Mac was now close enough to hear her voice instead of just its auditory reproduction in his insertions. He grabbed her shoulders and looked into her eyes, noticing in them a look of concern.

    Where? Where’s Sheldon, Iz? he barked.

    Behind this building. In the tent, Isabel answered. She barely managed to finish the sentence before Mac bolted in that direction. He stumbled as he ran, almost losing balance and falling to the ground like a giant oak. In total, there were three wooden buildings put up in haste. There was only one large circular tent in the middle of the outpost. Mac realized it must be used to cover up an underground interrogation room. He burst in, almost ripping open the flap.

    A thick wooden door led to the underground chamber. Mac ripped it off its hinges and threw it to the side, never stopping to think whether he risked injuring anyone who might have followed him in. He jumped into the dark hole, forgoing the ladder, and landed with a heavy thud. The room was dark and his retinal insertions automatically switched to night-vision. They unveiled a gruesome scene.

    There were two men inside. One was dead, the other one alive — but just barely. They were both naked. The Carrier was lying on the floor, still tied to a chair, missing his feet and a piece of his head that had been blown off by an energy-weapon. Somehow, he still managed to look better than Sheldon. Mac’s eyes widened at the sight of his friend’s physical state.

    Oh Sheldon… oh God… he cried helplessly.

    The Mindguard was also lying on the ground tied to a chair, but his legs were bent in all sorts of unnatural angles, broken in countless places. He had been trampled. His right foot had been burnt away by an energy blast, leaving in its place a sickening stump. His skull was swollen, making his face almost unrecognizable. His hair stuck to his skin with sweat and blood.

    The whole image made Mac queasy, though he had seen far worse in his life. With his senses overwhelmed by the gruesome images, it took him a while to pick up on the horrible wheezing sound his friend made when he breathed. But he was breathing and that was a good thing.

    A quick thought flashed through Mac’s mind: Sheldon was alive and the Carrier was dead. It didn’t make any sense. It should have been the other way around. They should have killed Sheldon the moment they captured him.

    He dropped to his knees and crawled over to his friend. It’s all right, he said, picking up the unresponsive Mindguard’s head and placing it in his lap. I’m here now.

    Maclaine Ross was a man whose mother had been murdered by a group of fanatics and whose father had been sentenced to death by telepathic assault for treason against the Federation. He had led a life of violence. Still, he felt like this was his lowest moment. He stroked Sheldon’s bloody hair.

    I’m here, buddy, he said, struggling to hold back tears. I’m here, buddy, right now… it’s just you and me now… hang on…

    He kept whispering words of comfort, rocking back and forth like a mother comforting her newborn, not sure if he rather wished Sheldon would come to and talk to him or remain unconscious through the entire ordeal and just wake up in a hospital back home.

    It looked bad. It looked horrible — but he was alive! That was all that mattered. All they had to do was keep him alive long enough to get him to a hospital. A few weeks of intensive care and genetic treatments and a few more months of stasis-rehab and he would be good as new. He knew that Sheldon, an adamant prototech, would despise being treated in stasis-rehab, but they would just have to fight about it when he was all right again. Right now, the priority was getting him healthy.

    I’m here, buddy… I’ve got you…

    Once again, a short spark of reason lit up the darkness of Mac’s emotions. They had clearly questioned Sheldon. They had tortured him for information. But why? What information could they possibly have wanted from him? Why was Sheldon alive and the Carrier dead?

    He didn’t have much time to think about it. The sound of footsteps distracted him. A couple of seconds later, Francois Gaultier descended into the torture chamber. He took a moment to assess the situation, looking around the room in equal parts sadness and confusion, before his gaze stopped on the sight of his leader cradling the mangled body of the world’s most famous Mindguard.

    Damn it, Sheldon!

    Is he dead? Francois asked. He had a tone of genuine concern, though he had never particularly liked Sheldon. Then again, few people had.

    What? Mac barked.

    Is he dead? Francois repeated, clearly not sensing the closeness of danger.

    Get out! Mac screamed with all his remaining energy.

    Mac?

    Get out! he yelled again, even louder, until his lungs hurt. Get out! Out! Get out! He looked for something to throw at his teammate but the only thing at hand was the chair that was still tied to Sheldon. Francois looked at him in a way no one had done before. He quietly climbed out of the awful chamber, and Mac could hear him calling for a medical unit.

    It’s just you and me, buddy, Mac whispered, cradling back and forth with his friend’s life in his hands. It’s gonna be okay. I’m here now… it’s you and me… it’s gonna be okay… it’s gonna be okay…

    Chapter 0

    Mei Jhabo, N’harat Seyka

    January 18, 2325, Terra Antiqua Standard Calendar

    The city of Mei Jhabo had two redeeming qualities. Exactly two and no more.

    After sixteen months, Celia Wallace felt entitled to that opinion. There were no hidden layers to Mei Jhabo waiting to be discovered by adventurous urban explorers, no charming idiosyncrasies that only a local could truly appreciate. In the capital of N’harat Seyka, what you saw was what you got and what you saw was addiction and crime.

    However, it did have two qualities. The first was that a person could still legally purchase and freely consume good old-fashioned cigarettes, not just those disgusting advancigs that were the norm in most of the IFCO. The second was the city’s beautiful night sky, which was especially spectacular if, like Celia, one had an interest in astronomy.

    She lived on the fifth and last floor of an apartment building located near the Kamo District. She had access to the roof, where she would often retreat to smoke, install her holoscope and inspect the night sky.

    On this occasion, the sky was cloudless and the weather was perfect. In fact, the weather was always nice in Mei Jhabo, so perhaps there was another redeeming quality to the place after all.

    Much like her other hobby — smoking — Celia had picked up amateur astronomy around the time she joined the Department for Oversight of Telepathy and Thoughtenhancers. Since her work often took her to distant places, she had developed a passion for stargazing on foreign worlds. She suspected it was partly her subconscious trying to remind her that there was more to the universe than drugs and crime.

    She lit a cigarette as she installed the device and pointed it towards her favorite constellation. It was another sleepless night, but that was normal. Celia got by on far less rest than most people needed. Many an early morning had found her staring at the sky, if only to avoid studying mission files.

    She loved this time of night. The only people awake at this hour were the only ones that mattered to her: criminals, their victims and people like her — the equalizers.

    She took a drag on her cigarette and exhaled slowly. Meanwhile, she activated the holoscope and enjoyed the lightshow as the device communicated its three-dimensional data to her retinal insertions, projecting the star map around her.

    The effect was calming. Distant suns glittered like jewels, their extraordinary energy reduced to a sparkling spectacle that existed merely for her enjoyment. She felt like a god positioned at the center of the universe. She moved the map with the motion-sensors in her fingers and delighted as the celestial bodies chased each other around. She didn’t focus on them, but on the infinity beyond. She needed a clear mind because Landau was due to arrive any minute.

    So typical of him to show up in the dead of night. Just thinking of Landau made her smile. At that moment, on the roof of a shabby building, on a violent planet, in the company of nothing but dead, distant stars, the pain of his absence was almost physical.

    Ever since she was offered the position of DOTT Commissioner in Mei Jhabo, being away from Landau had been torture. She felt as if a vital part of her was missing — the part that had always felt safe, in spite of the dangerous situations they’d faced together. She could always count on him to watch her back, and he could count on her. It was what had made them one of the most successful Deep Cover Units in modern DOTT history. Now she felt exposed and vulnerable, working in a city she didn’t like, asked to put her life in the care of people she didn’t trust.

    But she had to take the challenge – it was their creed. Landau himself had encouraged her to accept the position. In fact, he had downright threatened to stop talking to her if she backed away from any challenge, ever. That was how they lived their lives. She hungrily inhaled again, then blew out the smoke towards the Kamo hills.

    At that hour, the slum was a blanket of darkness. She could almost smell its stench. This proximity had never bothered her before. Normally, she enjoyed being so close to one of the most dangerous parts of town. From the roof, she could see the Hilltop District in its entirety. Usually, that gave her a sense of control but now, after the recent events, the view from her roof just made her anxious.

    Her anxiety didn’t last. A few moments later, the peaceful silence of the night was shredded by Landau’s approaching ride. He was making his usual entrance, tires screeching from a mile away. Celia smiled. As an undercover agent, Landau was a virtual chameleon, but in his personal life he seemed to try to be as ostentatious as possible. The Mei Jhabo traffic laws forbade flying vehicles, which was fantastic for Landau because tires made a lot of noise.

    Just a few seconds after his midnight wake-up call to the world, a text message appeared on her retinal insertions.

    Incoming!

    She purposefully didn’t answer, just to tease him a bit. Another text followed.

    Celia, I’m here. Wake up and get decent, or put out the cigarette and come give me a proper welcome.

    She smiled. I know, she replied. I heard you from a mile away!

    Good!

    As they texted back and forth she could hear the roaring engine of what she was sure would not be a subtle ride. The vehicles Landau rented on department dime were always cause for laughter at the DOTT. As the black behemoth took the corner, its vulgar headlights blinding vagrants and alley cats alike, Landau sent his last text. What a shit ugly place!

    I got it for the view, she answered, watching him park across the street from her building in the only available spot. He got out of the car and looked up, his gaze sweeping the roof in search of her. She looked back at him in utter disbelief of the fact that he was no more than sixty feet below. Her former partner gave her a small, sarcastic wave and she mimicked his gesture. His hand then went inside his black jacket, retrieving something she couldn’t see, but could easily guess. A small light flickered as he lit his cigarette.

    There’s no smoking inside the building, she texted.

    Bullshit, he replied and disappeared through the front door.

    Celia hurried back inside, listening for his footsteps in the hallway. The loud thud of his boots made her smile. When he finally appeared, his large frame barely fitting through the doorway, cigarette dangling from his lower lip, Celia had to hold back from jumping into his arms and giving him the biggest hug. He looked around her living room and drew a quick conclusion: What a dump!

    Welcome to my luxury penthouse, she said with a broad smile.

    Classy, he teased. He walked over and gave her the hug she’d been reluctant to offer him. They remained that way for over a minute.

    Missed you, she said and he whispered, I know. He finally, reluctantly let go of the embrace and took a step back, looking into her eyes. That’s why you’re wasting my time with this nickel-and-dime operation.

    She smiled. I needed your nickel-and-dime expertise.

    Landau carelessly threw his jacket onto the nearest chair and looked around her living room again, shaking his head.

    I didn’t have time to clean, Celia joked.

    I can see that.

    I know you’re a pig though, so I figured you wouldn’t mind.

    I am. And I don’t. And you’ve lived in worse places than this.

    Did I ever.

    Without asking permission he walked over to the fridge and studied its content.

    She rolled her eyes. You sure I can’t get you anything?

    He pulled out a bottle of diet soda and made a disappointed face, before putting it back inside and rummaging further. He finally found a Scholan beer, which seemed to be to his satisfaction. Sighing, he opened the bottle and downed half its content in the blink of an eye.

    So, how’s life? Celia asked.

    On Freeland? Fucking boring. Same as always.

    Well, I might be able to alleviate your boredom.

    I’m counting on it, he said, loudly crashing on her old couch. Celia was surprised the thing didn’t fall to pieces.

    You? he asked and she just shrugged. You don’t like this place, do you?

    She hesitated a few seconds. I think I’m just starting to get tired of all of this.

    Landau raised a finger to interrupt her. If you’re going to say ‘I’m too old for this shit’ I will get up and leave.

    Celia laughed. I liked it better in DCU.

    Ah, the curse of the promotion.

    Yeah, well…

    He chuckled. I take it you’re not fond of your new team?

    I’m not sure I can trust them. It’s not like Freeland or even Thesydan. She shook her head. It’s a different kind of place.

    Yeah, I know, he said nodding. It’s a mess. Looks like one too. That’s why they sent the absolute best agent in the DOTT to clean it up.

    The absolute best agent in the DOTT has been cleaning up so many messes in so many places she feels like the world’s most underpaid maid.

    Oh, for cryin’ out loud, Celia!

    She rolled her eyes. I know it’s hard for you to imagine, but for some of us life doesn’t just boil down to ‘I want to be a tough-guy.’ There are other things.

    Oh, yeah? Like knitting and painting… folk-dancing and stuff? You still got that holoscope?

    You still got that drinking habit?

    Landau answered with a loud, gravelly laugh. You bet, he said, placing the empty bottle on the coffee table. "All right, your five minutes of polite

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