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Pretender
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Pretender

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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 2006
Series: Foreigner: Arc 3: Book 2

1. Destroyer
2. Pretender
3. Deliverer

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Colonization
Hard SF
Soft SF
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Synopsis

Exhausted from a two-year rescue mission in space, the crew of the starship Phoenix return home to find disaster: civil war has broken out, the powerful Western Association has been overthrown, and Tabini-aiji, its forceful leader, is missing and may be dead.

In a desperate move, Bren Cameron - brilliant human paidhi to Tabini-aiji - and Tabini's grandmother Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, along with Cajeiri, Tabini's eight-year-old heir, make planetfall and succeed in reaching the mainland.

Ancient, but still brilliant and forceful, Ilisidi seeks refuge at the estate of an old ally. As Ilisidi's and Bren's bodyguards struggle to update the manor's antiquated defense systems, Tabini-aiji arrives at the door.

As word of Tabini's whereabouts circulates, clans allied with Tabini descend upon the estate, providing a huge civilian presence that everyone involved hopes will deter impending attack by the usurpers.

But as more and more supporting clans arrive, Bren finds himself increasingly isolated, and it becomes clear that both his extremely important report of alien contact in space, and even his life, rest on the shoulders of only two allies: Ilisidi and Cajeiri.

Can one elderly ateva and an eigh-year-old boy - himself a prime target for assassination - protect Bren, a lone human involved in a civil war that most atevi believe he caused?


Excerpt

The room had suffered, not from the attackers, but from the defenders of the house, who had taken no pains at all about recovering ejected shells - the detritus of combat was scattered about the floor, a few items lying on the rumpled coverlet of the bed, on the table. One, an apparent ricochet, having landed on the floor around the corner, in the large bath. Damage from the attempted intrusion of the enemy, numerous holes pocked the walls and woodwork. At some point during the battle for the house, someone among the room's defenders had shot an exit hole through the door, complementing the several inbound rounds that had taken out the door lock and lodged in an opposing wall ... without, one hoped, catching any of the house's defenders along the way. The door had been kicked open after that, evident by the scuff marks on the paint near the shattered lock, as the invaders rushed the room. Bt the foremost intruder from the hall had hit a chest-high wire at that point, and Bren was very glad the staff had cleared away hte evidence.

He was, considering all the other scars of war, overwhelmingly glad to find his computer where he had left it, hidden behind a stack of spare towels on the bottom shelf of the linen press ... neither defenders nor invaders having had an inclination to open the storage cupboard of spare towels and bedsheets. No stray shot had hit it, nothing had damaged it, and, on his knees, having extricated the precious machine and its accompanying security modem from their hiding spot, Bren sat on the floor in front of the cabinet with both on his lap, too exhausted, mentally and morally, to struggle up again.

"Is something wrong, Bren-ji?" Jago appeared by him, and he tucked the computer case under his arm, clenched the modem in his hand, and made the effort to get up. Jago helped with a hand under his elbow, lifting him to his full height - which, for a tall human, was about equal to her black-clad shoulder. Even Jago appeared the worse for wear at this hour, her Guild leathers and her ebony skin alike streaked with pale dust from the road and the shattering of plaster, her usually immaculate pigtail a little wind-frayed from a wild ride and a wilder night. Bren's own pale hands showed bloody scrapes. He had dirt under his nails, which would have been a scandal to his domestic staff if they had been here and not up on the station. They were all of them, himself and his atevi bodyguard, candidates for a good long soaking bath. He smelled of human sweat, Jago of that slightly petroleum scent, but a bath seemed out of the question at the moment. There seemed too much to do to contemplate such a luxury this afternoon, there was no domestic staff at hand to take care of the cleanup: It was all up to them; and he was sure that once he sank into warm water, he would be completely lost.

"Tired, Jago-ji," he murmured, inserting the modem into a case pocket. "Simply tired." He heaved the precious computer's carrying-strap up to his shoulder, not sure what else to do with the computer, wondering whether he should go on using the same hiding place and being too exhausted to be confident in his logical choices at this point. He hadn't so much as taken his coat off since their arrival in the room, and his clothing bore mud, soot, and the scrapes of hedge branches, not to mention mecheita-spit and bloody rips in cloth he had taken riding through a gap in the estate's wire fence. "But one dares not lie down yet."

"Let us check the bed," Jago said, and left him in order to do that check, electronically, with one of the little handhelds her Guild used.

Checking for bugs. For booby traps. Her partner, Banichi, was over by the windows, likewise engaged, and Tano and Algini, the other pair of his bodyguards, were in the bath, also looking for bugs and explosives, one surmised. All of them were gathering up shell casings.

"Is the chair safe?" he asked, meaning the fragile green-and-white-striped and doubtless pricelessly historical item in the corner.

Fragile from the atevi viewpoint: For a human, child-sized on an atevi scale, the chair was more substantial, even well-padded, and he was glad when Jago came back, surveyed it, and pronounced it safe for him to sit in.

Lord Tatiseigi, lord of the estate, had had his domestic and security staff make the first sweep of the premises, and they had cleaned up the bodies, blood, and broken items before they declared the room fit for occupancy. In any event, these rooms had fared better than the suite next door, where Kadagidi clan Assassins had made their actual entry into the house, and possibly left gifts that made one just a little anxious at the moment about standing near the north wall. Bren had less confidence in his host's staff than in his own - Tatiseigi's staff were competent at their work - competent, if woefully underequipped in communications and electronics - but he felt much safer knowing his own staff was giving it their own close inspection, with more skill, recent practice, and far better equipment.

Water started running in the bath, a thunderous flood in that huge, atevi-scale bathtub. It was a seductive sound, and more than a testing of the plumbing, since it went on. Tano and Algini had made an executive decision and started drawing hot water for the household.

And Bren looked at his hands, at the grime, the cuts, the stray mecheita-hair and mecheita-sweat that had gotten all over his sleevs and trousers, reconsidering the bath question and the question of letting the adrenaline run down.

The unpleasant fact was the day was well advanced adn they still weren't assured the Kadagidi weren't coming back tonight.

Or, worst of all thoughts, and one that had een at least a passing topic of discussion downstairs, their victory - and the knowledge Tabini was on the premises - might drive the Kadagidi to more desperate measures, even before dark: They might be desperate enough to attempt an air strike, in which case there was no safety and no time to settle in here as if there were.

Copyright © 2006 by C. J. Cherryh


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