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Margaret Duffy

The Killing Mind - Sample Extract

The following extract is taken from chapter one. I hope you like it!

Report to me, or else.

There was nothing outwardly strange in the fact that the man in charge of security was boarding a freighter but it was unusual for him to be a passenger. Normally he would be master-minding teams of four or more, the lightning and often unwelcome raids conducted without warning. Quite inexorable in their searches for contraband, illicit substances, stowaways, they were prepared to ground the ship and call in extra helpers if their canine assistants became excited. The security branch was not popular but, oddly, the head of it was and he had received several cheerful waves from members of the ground staff as he had made his way towards the Bulldog. It was Monday on Elliot Kyle’s second week back at work after just over four months recovering from a very close brush with death.

The Bulldog had not been built to carry passengers. A one-time battle cruiser, she had been stripped of every armament and most of her defence systems and was ending her days ferrying stores and personnel to safe, close-range outposts, mostly satellites and space stations. She belonged to a class of the oldest and ugliest spacecraft in the Fleet and her name, although it had a patriotic ring to it, was no slander. Her pilots and ground crew were counting the days until the whole lot were scrapped.

Her senior captain, Brett Stedman, a one-time combat pilot but now flying for the Civil branch, was also heading for retirement. Grey-haired and with a complexion that matched both that and the interior ‘decor’ of the Bulldog, he did not like carrying passengers, whoever they were. It was an added responsibility.

He greeted Kyle politely enough. ‘Mornin’, Major.’

Kyle solved any delicate question of protocol by touching the brim of his hat. It hardly seemed worth the effort to worry about which of them was the more senior in the two Fleet rank structures, Civil and Combat, but rather thought that he himself had the edge, a rather good one actually. No matter, he had far more important things on his mind.

‘There’s a problem,’ Stedman said.

Kyle had been halfway to a crewman’s seat he knew to be spare but returned for Stedman had been speaking quietly as though he didn’t want to shout his news all over the flight deck.

‘What?’ Kyle asked.

‘There’s fifty tonnes of stores, you and a convict all to go to Station 41 and they haven’t sent an escort for him. He’s still on the tarmac in the transport and I’m not allowed to move this relic one micron until I either receive authority to do so or the escort turns up – and I have a nasty feeling it isn’t going to.’

‘Have you contacted Flight Control?’

‘Yes, but they didn’t know anything about it and weren’t particularly interested.’

The last thing Kyle needed now was a long delay. He said, ‘I’ve an idea Station 41 forgot to send anyone. I’ll keep an eye on him if you like.’

‘I’m not sure that’s wise, Major. He’s a murderer.’

‘What the hell d’you you imagine he’s going to get up to with handcuffs on?’

‘The rules say that convicts have to be handcuffed to their escorts.’

‘Not if they’re going to Station 41, they don’t.’

‘That’s because they’d be with fully accredited wardens. You’re not a warden so if you take responsibility for him you’ll have to be handcuffed together.’ When Kyle did not immediately reply he continued, ‘No, it’s asking too much of you. I’m fully aware that you’ve–’

‘Let him on,’ Kyle interrupted coldly. ‘Having got this far it’s hardly humane to send him back and make him stew about it until another day.’

Stedman gave him an odd look but unclipped a mike from its stand and spoke tersely. A couple of minutes later three men came on board, the youngest handcuffed to one of the others. He was in a state of great agitation, his wrist bloody and raw.

‘What’s the meaning of this?’ Kyle demanded to know, indicating the injury.

‘Tried to escape,’ growled the prison warder to whom he was handcuffed.

‘How, for God’s sake? Surely you don’t mean he just took off with you in tow.’

‘That’s about it. Threw himself about like a madman. Hurt me too,’ he added, showing Kyle his own grazed wrist.

The other warder said, ‘If that damned satellite can’t be bothered to send their own staff then I reckon we ought to get paid danger money.’

‘Two minutes to flight clearance,’ Stedman snapped, walking off in the direction of his command position. ‘You pair either clear off with him or shackle him up to the security chief here.’

‘His other wrist,’ Kyle said with heavy patience as this was carried out. ‘And I’ll have the gizmo that activates them if you don’t mind.’

Kyle waited until the escort had disembarked and then removed the handcuffs. ‘Sit there,’ he said, pointing to the seat opposite the one he had chosen for himself. ‘And be warned, there’s nowhere on this ship where I won’t find you. I know every inch of her, even the spaces between the bulkheads.’

‘Major…’ Stedman began warningly.

Kyle glanced at him, irritated by the man. Afterwards, Stedman could not really describe the sensation that this produced. Someone with more imagination might have tried by saying that it was akin to biting on metal foil wrapped around barbed wire, another might talk of a sick-making blow between the eyes. All Stedman knew was that, for a moment or two, he felt distinctly unwell. He sat down heavily in his seat.

These days the Bulldog required only three crew members. Erikson, the Icelandic First Officer, now came forward from where he had been doing pre-flight checks somewhere else and took his seat. He ignored both Kyle and the convict, bad-temperedly stabbing at touch-screens, his contempt for the outdated craft apparent. He also ignored the Second Officer who slid through the entrance to the flight deck like an eel and likewise to his position where he donned a headset with the casual demeanour of someone who had been there for several minutes.

Stedman was not fooled. ‘If you’re late one more time I’ll report you,’ he said to him with an unpleasant smile. ‘And that won’t look good on your advancement certificate that’s coming up soon, will it?’

The man mumbled an apology.

All this mild aggression, while not directly aimed at him, was making the prisoner more and more nervous. He shrank back in his seat when Erikson suddenly leapt to his feet and hurried past him to check something that he had forgotten.

‘What’s your name?’ Kyle asked him. He had been given a secure electronic file with all the man’s details but hadn’t the password to access it. He wouldn’t anyway, it wasn’t his business.

‘Jon. Sorry…Aston. Jon Aston.’

‘Fasten your seatbelt, Jon.’

But his hands were shaking so much he couldn’t. ‘I - I just want to die,’ Aston stuttered.

Kyle studied him gravely. It was easy to see that the man was one of life’s inadequates. Physically weak, of short stature and with a receding chin he didn’t look either as though he’d had a decent meal in his life.

‘They bend your brains in that hell-hole,’ Aston managed to get out, openly crying now.

‘You should have thought about that before you killed someone!’ Stedman shouted, ‘Shut up! I can’t hear what Control’s trying to tell me.’

‘That’s what they call it,’ Aston continued in a whisper. ‘The Control. They turn over all the rocks in your brain and squash the bugs under them. Mind control. I was told you get hit by Control until you crawl like a beaten dog.’

He was still struggling with the seatbelt so Kyle leaned over and fastened it for him. ‘No,’ he said.


‘There’s a very strict code of practice. You’ll only come face to face with the unpleasant side of control if you’re stupid enough to do something drastic like strike a warden.’

It wasn’t the convicts who crawled like beaten dogs and vomited in corners, he thought. It was the wardens under training.

On his first morning back at work Kyle had looked at himself in a mirror and it had been strange to see the black and scarlet uniform again with its gold chevrons of rank. The man wearing it had changed. Just over two months in hospital had left him thinner and pale. He still suffered from agonising and sudden bouts of pain. His doctor insisted that it was a temporary condition and Kyle believed him but there was a limit to the number of analgesic tablets that could be taken and he had an idea that long-term pain-killing injections would leave him like a zombie. Perhaps pain was to be a lasting punishment. He was, after all, responsible for the death of a man, his lifetime friend, Alexei.

He pulled himself out of this habitual mood with an effort. A psychologist had told him that if he kept brooding about the crash he would lose his reason. That might not be a bad thing, Kyle thought, self-disgust might then be erased for ever.

Why did he feel sick every time he thought about the crash? It was not the memories of shock and pain, Kyle knew that. As a part-time test pilot he had had bad moments before, really bad moments. No, it was the rest. How could a wipe-out in a prototype Talismanic aircraft drastically alter the mind of a man who had survived it but left horribly injured? Was he now really telepathic to a startling degree or was it a cruel joke and he only imagined it? If it was imagination it was surprisingly vivid, the ether suddenly populated with whispers, the unspoken ideas and brain patterns of those around him. Perhaps, on the other hand, he was merely going mad.

There was more to it than telepathy, of course. Kyle was aware that when he now became angry with people and gave them a sharp look they received a nasty buzz. Like Stedman had a little while ago. That was the problem, he couldn’t switch it off. Every day there were minor alarms in this fashion and the thought of doing someone a real injury was frightening. For what was wrong with him now was that he seemed to be in possession of that uncanny and controversial power called Control.

Control could kill.

I can’t be going mad, Kyle mused. Having spoken to Stedman I can somehow know that he’s a latent homosexual. It’s actually quite surprising so the the idea hasn’t originated in my own mind. For some reason, odd these days, he despises himself and even more so for being attracted to the big blue eyes and wavy red hair of the late Second Officer. That’s why he’s tough on him, to cover it up.

Erikson, who with his long blond hair and ravaged features resembled a freshly thawed-out victim of an ages-old Icelandic bloodbath, was even more of a surprise. Kyle had already decided that he was not a happy man, that would be obvious to most people. The deep and black hatred he seemed to be harbouring for someone or something could not be a product of imagination either. But, just then, that was as far as Kyle’s curiosity went.

Although this was the first time Kyle had flown since the crash he wasn’t nervous. He hadn’t expected to be for there was no comparison. Sitting on a just about comfortable seat on a converted cruiser was not the same as being at the controls of a tiny capricious craft that could have danced on its head in the air if needs be. So Kyle relaxed as best he could and dozed. He slept more heavily that he had intended and when he awoke the throbbing roar of the engines during take-off had wound down to the soft murmur of normal running.

‘Old cow,’ Stedman said gloomily. His face a ghastly green from the reflected light of the instrument panels virtually surrounding him, he swung round in his seat to say, ‘Eight and a half hours, Major. There’s a cabin aft if you want to rest but I’m afraid you’ll have to share it with that loser. There’s an auto-galley and toilet facilities.’

Kyle unfastened his own and Aston’s seatbelts.

‘Don’t stare at me like that,’ Aston pleaded.

Kyle quickly looked away. Damn. Control again. His own wariness of what the other might suddenly do was causing him to appear aggressive. How did one switch it off? ‘Sorry,’ he said, getting to his feet. ‘Coming?’

‘Where?’ Aston asked, even more alarmed.

‘Coffee for me, breakfast for you,’ Kyle answered. ‘And we’ll look in a first aid box for something for that wrist.’

Aston stammered his thanks and they both went aft. Kyle wasn’t sure of his motives but hard-headedly told himself that he didn’t fancy being in close proximity with someone who reminded him of a puppy that had once been dumped on his doorstep without doing something about it.

The galley seemed to be programmed to provide lunch, hot, reconstituted and no doubt tasteless. But Aston happily tucked into a huge plateful of food advertised as chicken pie with spring vegetables. Kyle was content with black coffee. He was aware that these meals, once apparently jokingly referred to as ‘knitted protein’, originated in what were virtually laboratories. He was rarely hungry these days.

‘This is partly a business trip as far as I’m concerned,’ Kyle said to Stedman when the captain entered and stood scowling at the illuminated menu on the auto-galley. ‘I’d like to take a look at your secure stowage holds and check the cargo manifest.’

‘Any particular reason?’

‘A huge increase in pilferages by Fleet personnel,’ Kyle told him sweetly. ‘There’ll have to be a different system and until I’ve studied the present one in detail I can’t come up with a solution.’

Returning from an hour and a half tour of inspection followed by several minutes at the terminal of the on-board cargo checking computer Kyle made a short detour to see how Aston fared. He had left him in the twin cabin and there had been an understanding that Aston would stay there. He was, asleep on the top bunk.

After a short period of time spent dictating the main points of a report he would have to write about his findings into a tiny ‘wallet’ computer he returned to the cabin, partly undressed and lay on the bottom bunk. Sleep was impossible. He got up again and took two of the small pink pills that usually made him fuddled and sleepy but kept the persistent dull ache in his stomach at bay for a while, and stretched out on the bunk again.

The hand-written message – staggeringly rare these days – was of too confidential a nature to be entrusted to any communication system on a prison satellite considerably more obsolescent than the Bulldog. Quite unambiguous, the first sentence could be summed up in five words: Report to me, or else. Kyle was not sure of the governor’s intentions should he fail to obey but wasn’t unduly worried. But Merriott had gone on to inform Kyle of his duty in plain terms. Twice he had referred to his own age and reminded Kyle that the position was usually hereditary. While Station 41 was being used as a test base for Control Kyle had no choice in the matter. It was the law.

Kyle had worked out what his answer would be. It was quite simple. For Merriott had other offspring reputably by any number of women and one of them would have to fit the need. The laws governing the use of Control, now that it had been recognised and was undergoing a trial, might be draconian out of necessity but did not specify exactly the identity of who was responsible for overseeing its use. That was left to the discretion of the governor, finding and training his successor. And as this comparitively new and baffling dimension of the human brain appeared to be inborn, governors usually chose one of their own progeny.

During his long stay in hospital after the crash Kyle had kept very quiet about the strange things that were now going on inside his head and how he could look at people and come to rapid conclusions about their characters. He had had a horror of being committed to a military psychiatric hospital to have such an odd malady sorted out. Then he had remembered whose son he was.

Kyle knew enough about Control to be aware that although the ability was almost certainly in his genes the full power only normally emerged after assessment and intensive training by a licenced adept. As the law stood at the moment this could only be the governor.

I do not want to be a prison governor, Kyle thought, not for the first time. My mind might now be a freak of nature after being in a disastrous wipe-out in what could only be described as a mobile teleport and in which my best friend, Alexie Rominov, one of the finest exponents of control was killed but…


‘Forgive me,’ Kyle whispered. Then, in the dim red ‘sleeping’ light of the cabin he sat on the edge of the bunk and for the first time in many years, prayed. For help.

‘You OK?’ Aston suddenly asked.

Kyle started. ‘Yes – of course.’ Without thinking, he stood up quickly and agonising cramp seized his abdomen. He doubled up, gasping.

Aston was by his side in a moment. ‘You’re not. Can I get you anything?’

‘I’m fine,’ Kyle panted. ‘All right in a minute. Forgot.’

‘Man, you’re ill,’ Aston said when Kyle had straightened up slowly a couple of minutes later.

‘Was,’ Kyle corrected. ‘Crashed a prototype and got carved open.’

Aston looked appalled. ‘Really?

‘Yes. It tends to give you nightmares.’ He took a deep breath and then, cautiously, another. ‘Thank God, what feels like a knot has untied itself. It hasn’t happened for a while so I must be getting better. What time is it?’

‘Four forty-five.’

‘Four forty-five,’ Kyle echoed, thinking. ‘Unlike most satellites Station 41 runs on Greenwich Mean Time too with mornings, afternoons and nights so the time will be whatever your watch says it is.’

‘You know about the prison then,’ Aston said.

‘I lived there until I was nine years old,’ Kyle told him. ‘My mother was living at that time with a slightly crazy computer boffin by the name of Vernon Kyle. He was studying the telepathic powers of the wardens. But I’m not Vernon’s son. Nor is my brother Adam. They’d met and discovered they had the same kind of minds, eventually getting married, her idea as she didn’t want anyone to refer to her sons as bastards. She was very interested in Vernon’s work and did a lot of the programming for the telepathic computer he developed.’

‘Sounds as though he was ahead of his time.’

‘I don’t think time will ever catch up with him. The only people who could use it were those gifted with telepathy and Control. And thirty odd years ago Control was thought even more freakish than it is now and he couldn’t find anyone who would back him. Then, when he finally raised the money to have it fitted into a Hawkmoth it crashed.’

‘The prototype you mentioned just now.’

Kyle nodded. ‘I was flying it. Flying, you understand. It wasn’t operating on his computer at the time, just the normal ones that all aircraft have. We’re talking about an ordinary Hawkmoth, they’re still around – it’s a small executive jet.’

‘I’m with you.’

‘He’d had this second-hand production line Hawkmoth converted into a teleport – you know, matter broken down into atoms and beamed at the speed of light to another place. They’re common in spacecraft these days. If Station 41 didn’t have docking bays and didn’t have to deliver cargo there that’s how we’d be sent down from this ship.’

‘So where did the telepathic computer fit in?’

‘It ran the teleport side of things. Those who had been keyed into it, so to speak, to control it were known as Talismans, the name probably a conceit of Vernon’s. There was only one man who was a Talisman at the time the plane crashed, Alexei Rominov. He was killed. I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this really. Alexei’s dead and the plane destroyed. It destroyed Vernon too. A short while later he committed suicide.’

But he hadn’t related the story to anyone else. Who would care?

‘You mustn’t blame yourself,’ Aston said.

‘What do you know about it?’ Kyle replied almost savagely. ‘I’d been drinking. It was my fault – no one else’s.’

There was a short silence which Kyle broke by saying, ‘My apologies. I have no business boring you with my troubles when you’re due for a spell in prison.’

‘I’d been drinking too,’ Aston mumbled. ‘And the next thing I knew there was a fight with knives and a man was lying on the ground with stab wounds. He died. I didn’t notice that I was holding a knife until the police arrived. I’d been in trouble for that kind of thing before. I know how to use a knife. It’ll all be there in my records.’

‘No witnesses?’

‘They all ran off and anyway, I was too drunk to know who I’d been with that night. I didn’t even know the man who’d been killed. You’re a nice guy,’ Aston went on. ‘But we’re on different sides of the bars, aren’t we?’

‘There are no bars on Station 41,’ Kyle pointed out.

‘There’s Control. It adds up to the same thing.’

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