A mundane outing for interstellar sleuth Elias Kane and his pacifist, pumpkin-colored alien sidekick, Pendrake (The Psychopath Plague). Someone's trying to kill Gregory Amerdath, Imperator of Earth and its far-flung colonies, in his Nevada palace-fortress: a traitorous praetorian guardsman laser-beams the Imperator's body, though his head is saved and placed in a life-support box. Was the guardsman a loner, or is there a plot? Other attempts to dispose of the Imperator's head soon follow, with no shortage of suspects: the Imperial heirs, timid sculptor Lucian and headstrong Briana; security chief Fowler Giacomin; praetorian-guard commander Alvar Sabin; colonial viceroy Richard DuMorgan; super-surgeon Martha Reik; and even the Imperator's insect-like alien bodyguard, Chuddath. But the trail seems to lead to colonial revolutionaries, who then attack the palace. (Their target isn't the head, however, but anti-colonist Giacomin and his propaganda databank.) And finally there's an unprepared, surprising unmasking of the would-be assassin. Patchy sf, contrived sleuthing, slow-motion narrating--but just about appealing enough for existing Kane-and-Pendrake fans.