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Authors: Paul Collins

Molehunt

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Mole Hunt

Paul Collins sold his first professional fantasy story in 1977 to the US magazine ‘Weirdbook'. The best of his short stories have been collected in
The Government in Exile
(1994). A later collection,
Stalking Midnight,
was published by cosmos.com.

His first fantasy novel for younger readers was
The Wizard's Torment.

Paul also edited the young adult anthology
Dream Weavers,
Australia's first heroic fantasy anthology.
Fantastic Worlds,
and
Tales from the Wasteland
followed.

Together with Michael Pryor, Paul is the co-editor of the highly successful fantasy series,
The Quentaris Chronicles;
he has also contributed seven titles to the series as an author. Paul's other works include
The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars
trilogy and
The World of Grrym
trilogy written in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Paul has been the recipient of several awards, notably the inaugural Peter McNamara, the Aurealis, and the William Atheling. He has been short-listed for many others, including the Speech Pathology Australia and Ditmar awards.

Paul has worked as a pub bouncer, served time in the commandos, has a black belt in both tae kwon do and ju jitsu, was a kickboxer, and trained with the Los Angeles Hell Drivers.

Visit him at

www.paulcollins.com.au
and
www.quentaris.com

Also by Paul Collins

Cyberskin

Dragonlinks

Dragonfang

Dragonsight

Wardragon

The Wizard's Torment

Swords of Quentaris

Slaves of Quentaris

Dragonlords of Quentaris

Princess of Shadows

The Forgotten Prince

Vampires of Quentaris

The Spell of Undoing

The Earthborn

The Skyborn

The Hiveborn

Allira's Gift
(with Danny Willis)

Lords of Quibbitt
(with Danny Willis)

Morgassas' Folly
(with Danny Willis)

Trust Me!
(editor)

MOLE HUNT

Book 1 in The Maximus Black Files

Paul Collins

Most works of fiction are collaborations in their many
manifestations. Although authors are gods to their worlds,
we have angels. Mine include Randal Flynn, Sean
McMullen, Avi Polymorph, Sue Jimenez and Meredith
Costain
.

First published by Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of
Hybrid Publishers, PO Box 52, Ormond VIC 3204

Melbourne Victoria Australia

© Paul Collins 2011

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

This publication is copyright. Apart from any use
as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be
reproduced by any process without prior written permission
from the publisher. Requests and inquiries concerning
reproduction should be addressed to Ford Street Publishing
Pty Ltd, 2 Ford Street, Clifton Hill VIC 3068.

www.fordstreetpublishing.com

First published 2011

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Collins, Paul, 1954–

Mole Hunt / Paul Collins.

ISBN 9781921665264 (pbk.).

For young adults.

A823.3

Cover design: Les Petersen ©

Book design by Grant Gittus

In-house editor: Saralinda Turner

Printing and quality control in China by Tingleman Pty Ltd

Contents

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

S
OMEONE was going to die. And it wasn't going to be Maximus Black.

It was cold, blustery and overcast – what would have been an ordinary winter's day on Earth. But this was not Earth. The planet Zetalon Six had few redeeming features; it was depressing at best and deadly at its worst.

Zetalon was generally a well-behaved world, in a circular orbit around a steady, reliable star, and should have been prime real estate. However, orbiting that star at the same distance, but in a highly inclined trajectory, was an asteroid belt. Twice a year Zetalon Six ploughed through a cosmic shooting gallery, and endured an artillery barrage greater than the entire history of a civilisation's wars could manage. The surface wore craters, rubble, and very little else. All plants and animals reproduced on a six-month cycle, creating a vast number of seeds and offspring so that a few would survive the next rocky onslaught.

The air was always murky with smoke and dust from the biannual meteorite barrages. There were four seasons: murky and clearing, twice a year. Murky came after an asteroid storm. Clearing was before the next bombardment commenced. The murky seasons were depressing, but were preferable to the clearing seasons, which became increasingly terrifying as the end of the third month neared.

No interstellar traveller ever saw more than one clearing season; those lucky enough to survive would never be back.

The terrain lost its shadows as darkness came down like a fire blanket. None of the moons had risen yet and the toxic evening wind off the acid ocean had not yet begun to bite. But the stillness did not fool Special Agent Maximus Black, who seemed too young to be suspicious when things were going exceedingly well. But he knew that it was not how much you experience but how you experience it.

Maximus came from a long line of madmen, murderers and megalomaniacs, but the
Regis Imperium Mentatis
– the galactic law enforcement agency known as RIM – seemed not to care about his ancestry. It was possible that all Rimmers had the genes of psychopathic ancestors, and that they were recruited for that reason. Black was not worried by this thought. He was sure that he had more psychos in his family tree than any of his colleagues. After all, they were a bunch of well-meaning heroes, out to fix up the universe after 10,000 years of war, darkness and imperial slavery.

Black was the exception. He was no boy scout. And he was about to prove it.

He darted from boulder to boulder, keeping low, and then plunged through a wall of shadow so thick he could barely see his own hand before him. Still, he did not need to see his hand to aim his needle gun, a horror weapon of the last millennium. It had been banned for over a century. What made it truly horrible was the way it tore into flesh and started a chain reaction, ripping along nerve pathways like molecular acid till it reached the victim's brain and unscrambled it piece by piece. They said a person hit by a needler saw their life flashing before their eyes, only it flashed
backwards
– dissolving into oblivion as they died. It tortured its victims to death, rather than just killing them.

A real crowd stopper
, thought Black. One's opponents generally fled without fighting, which was good. Those few that did not, fought back with desperate and suicidal ferocity, but then no weapon was perfect.

Maximus sniffed the wind. He had a sense of smell as sharp as his gun's ammunition, another genetic asset, designed to keep predators like him ahead of the game. Like any good predator he was downwind of his prey. Despite his nasal filters, he could smell Special Agent Luton, and Luton smelled of fear. By now, he would know that someone who knew he was a mole planted by the Quesada Corporation had lured him here.

Maximus licked his lips as he moved forward through the shadows, and what he tasted was a warning. The death-wind was picking up. He closed his faceplate. There was little time left. Soon the acid on the air would start to eat away at his eyes, his ears, the soft membranes of his nose and throat. Enough, exposure would leave him blind, deaf, and in agony. Enough wind would reduce him to a puddle of melting human flesh on the shattered rocks and sand.

Zetalon Six was, however, a useful place for obliterating evidence of a Class A Violation – the kind of weapons violation that could draw annoying attention, especially from the Sentinels. The faceless, inhuman and untouchable enforcers of the law were unbribable and, rumour had it, invulnerable. Maximus wanted to put them to the test one day, but was not in a hurry.

Luton was his immediate concern, and his window of opportunity was closing fast.

Maximus broke into a smooth, silent sprint, his legs seemingly spring-loaded. It was a risky move, but the bold stroke was the decisive one. He reached rock shelter alive, stopped, flattened himself against a boulder, and sniffed. Luton was close.

Hope you like surprises
, thought Maximus. He had been astounded to learn Special Agent Luton was a Quesadan spy. Maximus himself detested surprises, and eradicated people who caused them as ruthlessly as he squashed irritating bugs. Thus Quesada had to be taught not to meddle in his affairs.

He touched a button on his utility belt. A sticky attractor field extruded from his gloves and boots. He swarmed up the embankment's jumble of rocks, moved quietly over the ridge to the other side, and then slipped down into a defile. From there he could see Luton, crouched in a shallow crater. Luton had a clear field of fire, but he was obviously nervous. He moved his weapon continually, not just his eyes, evidence of fear and insecurity. Movement betrayed a warrior to target sensors.
Tsk tsk
, thought Black.
The Academy must be scraping the bottom of the barrel these days
.

Maximus glided out from his cover, and Luton's motion sensors picked up his movement. Warned too late by the device, Luton began to turn.
Good for you
, thought Maximus.
Go on, take your best shot, try to kill me, give me my excuse
.

Luton spun, bringing his weapon around in a flashing arc, saw the figure of Maximus as the image of Death. Even as he pulled the trigger it was too late. A needle fired by Maximus was already in his throat.

Maximus watched with clinical detachment. Luton's body convulsed with a surge of muscle reflex, his sinews and tendons ripping as his body reacted against itself as everything was blotted out by mind-sawing pain. These reactions spoiled the aim of his shot, as Maximus knew it would. Pain like acid would be force-pumping into every pore of Luton's skin.

No thought of defending yourself, now, Luton
, Maximus mused. Then his eye monitor warned of increased acidic concentration in the air. Time to go. Durable though his equipment was, it was being pushed to its limits. And down in the crater, Luton had stopped writhing.

BOOK: Molehunt
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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