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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 2001
Series: Foreigner: Arc 2: Book 2

1. Precursor
2. Defender
3. Explorer

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Colonization
Hard SF
Soft SF
Avg Member Rating:
(42 reads / 16 ratings)


It has been over two centuries since the starship Phoenix disapeared into space, leaving a colony of humans to fend for themselves on the world of the alien atevi.

Since then humans have lived in exile using a single diplomat, the paidhi, to trade bits of advanced technology for continued peace and safety.

Now the unexpected return of the Phoenix has shattered the fragile political balance of these two nearly incompatible races. For the captains of the Phoenix offer the atevi something the planet-bound humans never could - access to the stars. In return the captains ask for atevi manpower and supplies to rebuild their long-derelict space station and refuel their aging starship.

Nearly ten years later, the atevi have three functioning space shuttles, and teams of atevi engineers labor in orbit to renovate the space station.

But these monumental advances not only add a dangerously powerful third party to an already precarious diplomatic situation, but rouse pro- and anti-space factions in atevi society to near-incendiary levels. To help negotiate these treacherous diplomatic waters, Tabini-aiji, the powerful head of the atevi's Western Association, has sent the only human he fully trusts into space: his own paidhi, Bren Cameron.

However the threat of possible invasion by hostile aliens who attacked Phoenix's station in a far-off sector of space hangs over them all. And when one of the senior captains of the Phoenix confesses that this distant station was not completely destroyed, as had been previously thought - that there may be friends and family who still survive - the crew mutinies.

How can Bren hope to mediate on a station overcome by a rebellious crew intent on taking the Phoenix on a rescue mission back into hostile territory?


Firelight went up to the red figures of an ancient frescoed vault, smoke-hazed from the braziers on either side of the black stone tomb. In the dark congregation, watchful eyes now and again caught the firelight and reflected it, gold fire brighter than the sheen of light off opulent brocade.

It was an atevi place - and solemn tribute to a decades-dead aiji. Decades in the past, Valasi might be, but the association he had created had only grown wider at his death. It spanned the continent now. It reached around the world. It shared the heavens with strangers.

An atevi place, an atevi ceremony, an atevi congregation ... but one human, one pale, blond, very small and conspicuous human stood in a crowd of towering atevi lords, some of whom had often and fairly recently entertained the idea of killing him. Under the court attire, the frock coat and the lace and the brocades, Bren Cameron wore ten pounds of composite that would stop most bullets, if any of these very adept gentlemen and ladies ventured an assasination without proper Filing of Intent.

The Assassins' Guild, on the living aiji's order, would not allow that to happen. The tall atevi on either side of him, Banichi and Jago, in the black and silver of that Guild - they knew the odds, they knew all the agreements and contracts currently in force - knew the likelihood of illegal risks as well. And while assuring him there was no contract Filed, and that no Guild actions but surveillance could be taken for days on any side of this gathering - they still insisted on the armor.

So Bren complied, uncomplaining, with not too many questions, and kept his head generally down, evading any too-direct stare that might draw attention.

Deference, respect, solemnity ... in a place where humans least of all belonged.

Tabini-aiji had decreed this honor to his father's tomb, so the invitation declared, for a memorial and a reminder of the origins of the Western Association - well and good. Humans and atevi alike honored their dead, and they held memorials, particularly at points of change or challenge.

But what was changing? Or where was the challenge?

But predictably enough - they could hardly ignore the call to venerate the aiji's father - the loyal lords of the western aishidi-tat had come in with no trouble. Those from the south shore and from the farthest eastern reaches of the Association arrived in far more uneasy duty, surely with questions of their own. They had been Valasi's allies, most of them - and saying so had been unfashionable in the west for decades.

The aiji-dowager, too, had flown in from the east for this solemn even. If she hadn't, rumors would have flown.

Ilisidi, aiji-dowager, Valasi's mother.

Tabini's grandmother.

And the whole world knew that one of the two, Tabini or Ilisidi, had almost certainly assassinated Valasi.

Well, grant she came: no mere opinion of men perturbed her. If one was an atevi lord - and she was among the highest of atevi lords - one rigidly observed the proprieties and courtesies that supported all lords, whatever the circumstances. One consistently did the right thing.

And if one were the human paidhi-aiji, the official translator, the point of contact between two species, one also did the right thing, and came when called, and kept clearly in mind the fact that this was not human society. A paltry assassination by no means broke the bonds of an atevi association, no more than it necessarily fractured man'chi - that emotional cement that held all atevi society together. A judicious, well-planned in-house assassination only made the association more comfortable for all the rest - eased, rather than broke, the web of association and common consent - in this case, the family bond on which the stability of the world depended.

A well-chosen assassination might make unity easier, once the dust settled, and a species that did not, biologically speaking, feel friendship ... still felt something warm and good when its surrounding association settled into harmony.

Copyright © 2001 by C. J. Cherryh


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