The seventeenth novel in Cherryh’s Foreigner space opera series, a groundbreaking tale of first contact and its consequences…
The human and atevi inhabitants of Alpha Station, orbiting the world of the atevi, have picked up a signal from an alien kyo ship telling them that the ship is inbound toward Alpha. Five thousand of the inhabitants of Alpha are human refugees from the now derelict Reunion Station. They have seen this scenario before, when a single kyo ship swooped into the Reunion system and, without a word, melted a major section of Reunion Station with a single pass. These refugees, who were rescued through the combined efforts of an allied group of humans and atevi and brought to safety at Alpha, are now desperate with fear.
Bren Cameron—brilliant human emissary of Tabini-aiji, the powerful atevi political leader on the mainland below, and also the appointee of the human president of the island nation of Mospheira—is the obvious choice of representative to be sent up to deal with both the panicked refugees and the incoming alien ship.
As a member of the spacefaring delegation who rescued the refugees, Bren has talked to kyo before—and even won their trust by saving one of their kind from a Reunioner prison. Because of his remarkable diplomatic and linguistic abilities, Bren managed to communicate with that grateful kyo individual on a limited basis, and he has evidence that that same kyo is on the ship heading to defenseless Alpha Station.
But no one can predict what an alien race might do, or what their motivations could be.
And Bren Cameron, the only human ever to be accepted into atevi society, is now the one individual with a hope of successfully interacting with the crew of the incoming ship. But Bren knows it will take putting himself in the hands of the kyo.
Can Bren count on the gratitude of one individual alien to save his life and the lives of thousands on Alpha Station?
Release date: April 5, 2016
Print pages: 384
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The lift slowed and shifted sideways. The indicator above the doors showed their approach to the change-point, the cross-over, where the human side of the station met the atevi side and did face-to-face business. A schematic to the right of the door showed a second lift, outbound from the docking bay, destined for the same stop.
That lift bore a very welcome envoy from the Earth below.
On the Earth of the atevi—humans did not predominate. But on the station—it was supposed to be a treaty-set balance.
It had gotten out of balance. And that was only one problem he needed to solve in the near future. The very near future.
Bren Cameron kept a precautionary grip on the safety bar—not being a citizen of the station, not being familiar with the route, he remained wary of surprises from the lift system. He wore court dress for the occasion, as a lord of the atevi aishi-di’tat, which he was. Not that the arriving party would care. But the occasion called for dignity. Respect. For him that meant brocade and lace.
Around him, his atevi bodyguards, black-skinned and golden-eyed, towered a head taller, armed and watchful. Wherever he went, they went, black-uniformed, constantly in contact with atevi authority, who could amplify their small force considerably on short notice.
Banichi and Jago, Tano and Algini—that team of four was the heart of his own household. Two more of the Assassins’ Guild attended him on this occasion, one man from the aiji-dowager, who was in charge of the mission; and one from Lord Geigi’s bodyguard, as a guide through station systems and a personal gesture of support from Geigi, who had been on duty shift after shift as atevi stationmaster in Central—control of which was supposed to rotate between human and atevi every two shifts, and pass politely between the two authorities.
That rotation had happened like clockwork for years . . . until—God, what was it? Five? Six?—days ago, when outside events hurtled the world toward a meeting they didn’t want under the best of circumstances. The alien and extremely dangerous kyo had arrived insystem and were now heading toward the inner solar system, presumably for a visit.
Presumably being the operative word. The kyo were already at war. Not with them, but with someone, and it was a concern—on two fronts. They hoped it was actually the kyo visiting them and not the unknown Someone. And they had aboard the station five thousand survivors from the other human station—Reunion—which had run afoul of what was indisputably a kyo attack. The kyo had had second thoughts afterward. They had allowed the evacuation of the survivors and promised peace.
One truly hoped that understanding had held up.
And with news that the kyo were inbound, the Mospheiran-born stationmaster, Mikas Tillington, had gone berserk, locked down the Reunioner sections of the human side of the station, and refused to release control of Central to atevi on their regular rotation. Mikas Tillington had put himself in sole control. Mikas Tillington had determined he was not going to turn decision-making over to his atevi allies, not with this emergency bearing down on them, and he had emphatically refused to trust the Reunioners, who had come in as outsiders and a problem to his organized station operations, even to be free to walk the station corridors.
The Reunioners hadn’t been treated well by Tillington’s administration, and they were now panicked out of all reason.
Well, Tillington could lock the Reunioners into their sections, but not even he had dared lock the atevi shuttle out of dock. And that atevi shuttle had brought up not only Bren Cameron, human translator for Tabini-aiji, head of the atevi government, but also Tabini’s grandmother the aiji-dowager, and the aiji’s nine-year-old son, with staff and security, who brought the certain word that atevi intended to be in charge of contact with the kyo—and determined that they also would be in charge of the station, given the meltdown of the human-side stationmaster.
Once aboard, Bren, armed with a mandate from the Mospheiran president and the support of two of the four Phoenix captains, had walked into Central, ousted Tillington and shifted control to the atevi control center.
Tillington having refused to negotiate at that point, Bren had locked Tillington in his own apartment under house arrest and set the atevi-side stationmaster, Lord Geigi, on watch and watch with his crew, all this pending the arrival of the shuttle bearing Tillington’s replacement.
Also in custody, now, given a rapidly worsening situation in the locked sections, was the self-appointed leader of the Reunioners, one Louis Baynes Braddock, the former Reunion stationmaster, currently the primary troublemaker among the refugees. Braddock was Pilots’ Guild, which in the distant past had run the ship. He claimed authority, he had ruled Reunion for over a decade, and, with Reunion lost, he had delusions of taking command here—a command that might never have gained followers, had it not been for Tillington’s hate campaign against the Reunioners.
With the kyo approaching and the Reunioners in a state of panic, Braddock had made his move—and landed likewise under arrest.
It was not a good time for a civil war.
And with the four Phoenix captains themselves split two and two—two having backed Tillington and two vehemently opposed—it was time for the two powers of Earth to step in and inform the authorities in space what they intended to do about that rapidly approaching ship.
Two powers controlled the planet: the aishidi’tat and its leader Tabini-aiji, who owned all but one of the shuttles that kept the station going, and the President of the island of Mospheira, where humans had found refuge from the original quarrel that had split colonists from ship-folk—and where they had lived and built for two hundred years, below a dead and moth-balled station in orbit, never expecting Phoenix would return.
Never expecting Phoenix would have created another human station in another species’ claimed territory.
Certainly never expecting that a ship from that species would be coming in on Phoenix’s trail with a purpose yet to be determined.
Tabini-aiji had sent Bren Cameron up to deal with the impending visitors by whatever means he found necessary. Necessity thus far had included the forceful removal of Tillington from Central, and the arrest of Braddock and his followers.
The President of Mospheira was also moving fast. He had quickly launched Mospheira’s only shuttle and sent a replacement for Tillington, a unilateral appointment, with no reference to the Mospheiran legislature.
A good thing, in Bren’s opinion. He needed help, someone to take the reins of the human-side operation, Mospheiran and Reunioner, because the Phoenix captains weren’t in a position to do it, the atevi authority shouldn’t do it, and he had his hands full with what was coming in on them from outside the solar system.
The current time was first-shift, a fact completely irrelevant to Bren’s sleep-deprived body. The crisis of the moment had determined his schedule ever since he’d come aboard. He was currently operating on three hours of sleep. He’d had tea and toast for a breakfast, issued a few housekeeping orders, cleared small details left from yesterday, slipped into a good coat, and set out, desperately relieved to know that the shuttle was here, and to know that Tillington and his authority was officially and indisputably replaced, not by his hands alone.
More, he knew the replacement. Dr. Virginia Kroger. Gin. Robotics. Systems. And experienced in management. He’d worked with her. So had the Captains. So had Geigi. And he was beyond ready to shed the problem of the station’s unrest and take on what he was here to do, which was to deal with the incoming ship—to take up where negotiations with the kyo at Reunion had broken off, and lay the groundwork for real communication with the people of that incoming ship, far beyond the handful of words they’d established the last time they’d met. He needed to find out exactly why the kyo were here and what they wanted, beyond their enigmatic pronouncement back at Reunion that they would visit.
Most of all he had to bring the negotiation to a point that didn’t lead to them joining the kyo’s war, or seeing the kyo’s enemies turn up here. And he had to do it without accidentally triggering a kyo attack on Alpha, the way the kyo had taken out Reunion Station.
The situation with the kyo was delicate and moment to moment already. There was no way to predict when the polite echo, station to kyo ship and back again, of the kyo’s last transmission, Prakuyo come, would change. If it did, when it did, atevi Central would buzz him, asking him please translate and come up with a response that wouldn’t send the entire encounter spiraling out of control.
He needed, badly, to leave all station politics in the hands of sane people, and withdraw to his apartment, get a full night’s sleep, and wake with his mind fully focused on the kyo problem.
Please God that Gin could keep the station quiet.
And that he could come up with answers.
One had to be very, very quiet getting up this morning. Great-grandmother was resting in her private rooms in the apartment. Cajeiri, aged fortunate nine, dressed with the help of two of his bodyguards, while his guest Irene, who had slept apart, dressed with the help of his other two.
It had to be yesterday’s clothes for Irene: that was all Irene had brought away when she had escaped the Reunioner sections. But staff would have cleaned her clothes during the night, everything taken in stride. From some source, last night, one of the servants had provided Irene a rather too large sleeping-robe. And his own bodyguards had provided her a proper place to sleep.
Irene’s hair, which had been gold, now was not. She had cut it right at the roots, so now it was very short, black, curly, and just showed random gold tips all over, which made, Cajeiri thought, a really pretty effect.
Shortly after nand’ Bren had arrived on the station, she had done that to her hair, put on atevi clothes, stolen a key, slipped out of her mother’s apartment and gone straight to the ship-folk door guards, speaking only Ragi, which of course they could not in the least understand.
The guards who barred her way might have suspected she was not atevi, but atevi dress was not something humans could easily lay hands on, so it had been clear she was somebody. The guards had had to ask authority, and their going to authority meant that word had gotten to Jase-aiji, who was the third- highest of the ship-aijiin. Nand’ Jase had immediately taken Irene in hand and brought her to nand’ Bren. The very topmost ship- folk authority, Ogun-aiji, had declined to stop Jase-aiji doing that—because everybody knew that those three human children, who had gone down to Earth to visit the aiji’s son, were under the protection of the aishidi’tat.
They had always agreed, Cajeiri and his young associates, that if there was ever any trouble or they felt they were in danger, they should all get to the station maintenance tunnels and go straight over to the atevi half of the station and ask for Lord Geigi. So when the news had spread that the kyo were coming and Tillington-aiji was locking down the Reunioner sections, Bjorn and Artur and Gene had done just that, but that move had only gotten them trapped in the tunnels as they locked, so they had been stuck where they were.
But Irene had never gone to the tunnels. The Reunioner stationmaster, Braddock, who was causing all the trouble, had taken up residence in the apartment next to Irene’s, and Braddock’s people had locked Irene in, trapping her, as he’d also hoped to trap Bjorn and Artur and Gene, so Braddock could hold them to negotiate with in the emergency, all because they were under that special protection.
So Irene, being both brave and clever, had made a second plan. She had kept her atevi clothing that she had worn home from her visit to the world, and once she was sure from what Braddock’s people said that nand’ Bren was on the station, she had waited until people were asleep, then taken scissors and cut her hair, put on the clothing she had kept, and taken her mother’s master key, and walked right up to the ship-folk guards like a lord of the aishidi’tat.
Then she had told nand’ Jase and nand’ Bren exactly where Braddock was, and that had let nand’ Bren and nand’ Jase move to capture Braddock and take control of the Reunion sections by way of the tunnels, without anyone getting hurt.
It had been a brave move on Irene’s part. If the ship-folk had returned her to her apartment, she would never have gotten away twice, and her mother would have been very angry. But Irene had not lost her nerve, and even if the guards had been sure she could not be atevi caught on the wrong side of those locked doors, she had kept using names like Lord Geigi over and over, and saying that she was under the protection of the aiji in Shejidan—which she was. So even if the guards were absolutely sure she was human, and even if they might not have understood what she was telling them about the aiji in Shejidan, everybody on the station knew Geigi’s name, and the guards had certainly known those clothes were not station clothes. Everybody definitely knew three Reunioners had been to the world and back.
So the guards had had to ask somebody what to do about Irene.
Now Irene’s mother and Braddock were both under arrest. They were locked up for security reasons, but they might get out again someday. And if they did, they probably would find out who had told nand’ Jase where to find them. That might make life very unpleasant for Irene.
One could not, would not, let that happen. Not to Irene and not to any of his human associates. Cajeiri was resolved on that. They would never, ever be in a position where Braddock could threaten them again.
Gene and Artur and Bjorn and Gene’s mother had all been found safe, rescued out of the tunnels. Then atevi security had gone in to get Bjorn’s parents and Artur’s out of the closed sections, because they might be in danger from Braddock’s people. They were not safe to be put into Mospheiran residency—because Mospheirans and Reunioners were at odds. There was certainly no place for them among the ship-folk. So all of them were guests on the atevi side now, under Lord Geigi’s personal protection. They had spent last night just down the hall, in Lord Geigi’s guest quarters. Things were still very desperate in the Reunioner section, and the big section doors were still shut and guarded, but this morning Gene and Artur and Bjorn and their parents would all be waking up safe, to a good breakfast, right down the hall from Great-grandmother’s apartment. And they owed Irene thanks for all of it.
But for the same reasons, Irene had no mother able to see to her now, because her mother had taken up with Braddock’s people. It might be politics that would never change, though sometimes people took positions for safety’s sake, and he was sure they would find that out, if that was the case—but he suspected it might go deeper and darker than that, because Irene did not want to see her mother, even if she got out of arrest, and expected her mother did not want to see her, either. Ever.
Cajeiri understood, or tried to, knowing that humans did not have man’chi as atevi had. But they certainly had feelings like that feeling, and if Irene said whatever loyalty she had to her mother was gone, he was sure something like man’chi was broken, and might never be able to be fixed.
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