Fifty thousand years ago, a meteorite hit the planet Asto, giving its Aghyrian inhabitants mere days of notice. Three ships escaped the Armageddon. Two went to the neighbouring planet. The third, a massive generation ship, refused to take on refugees, and then vanished without a trace.
It’s coming back.
Its initial burst of communication caused the outage of the Exchange, the FTL network for transport and communication, but since then the ship has been silent. It jumps about at random, using wormholes it generates with a drive the likes of which no one has seen before.
Meanwhile at the gamra assembly, people jostle to be in the best positions when it inevitably turns up in inhabited space. What the ship wants or whether there is anyone on board no one knows, but diplomat Cory Wilson knows one thing: when it turns up, he must avoid a conflict at all cost.
If only gamra presented a united viewpoint. If only Asto’s army wasn’t keen to get involved. If only the Aghyrians at gamra didn’t do what they do best: manipulate and play games with everyone. While the ship approaches, the delegates bicker, and the time for negotiating is fast running out.
Snippet from chapter 9:
Veyada and Sheydu inched very slowly into the room until they were a good few paces in. Sheydu lowered her gun. She walked to the side wall and yanked open a door in a cupboard that stood out of my field of vision. She pointed her gun inside, waited, eying the contents of the cupboard.
Finding nothing in there that interested her, she shut the door, twisted a safe tie around the handles so the cupboard could not be opened from the inside in case she had overlooked something. She turned to the other side of the room and opened another door there, but also found nothing.
Veyada crouched behind the door to examine the debris they’d had to push aside to get the door to open. Veyada rarely shared his thoughts, but I picked up some of his deliberations about how someone could have dragged it with one hand reaching into the room and dropped it against the door to create the illusion that someone was still inside.
Sheydu went into the little kitchen and came out a moment later. Nothing, she gestured.
Thayu lowered her gun and also went into the room.
Now that the three of them had declared it safe enough to enter, I followed.
The office had been well and truly trashed. All of Federza’s elegant furniture smashed to bits. They’d even put gauges in the wall. And why?
I stepped over the debris to the desk. In the wall behind it was a cupboard that had contained electronics. The pieces of equipment lay in fragments on the floor, readers and projectors and timers and Trader-related equipment which I didn’t recognise, even a device that looked suspiciously Earth-made–
There was a tiny noise.
I froze and held my breath.
Veyada, next to me, also stopped and grabbed for his gun.
For several long moments, we stared around the room.
Any cupboard doors that Sheydu had not safe-tied stood open. There was no way that anyone hid in there. The door in the opposite wall led to a small kitchen where there was a bed along one wall. The little room had no windows. No one could hide in there either. Not after Sheydu had checked.
Thayu scanned the room with her infrared scanner again. I could see the screen over her shoulder–and then remembered the fight in the foyer in front of Ezhya’s private apartment, where attackers had hidden in the dome.
There was a manhole in the ceiling. It was probably not obvious to people–and software–unfamiliar with Barresh architecture. Thayu used an Asto-made scanner.
I met Veyada’s eyes and looked up.
He noticed the manhole. Fuck, he whispered soundlessly.
Sheydu and Thayu now also looked up.
Veyada sneaked around the room, carefully stepping over debris without making a single sound, keeping his gun pointed at the manhole. Thayu dialled up the sensitivity and scanned the ceiling. A very faint and indistinct lighter-coloured blob showed up. She showed it to Veyada, who aimed his gun and fired at the ceiling. The charge went straight through, and left a bright white trail on Thayu’s scanner. It left a blackened hole in the plaster, but otherwise missed the lighter blob. On purpose, because Veyada wouldn’t miss at this distance.
There was another scuffing noise. Now I could see clearly how the grey blob moved.
Veyada shot again, now hitting the ceiling on the other side of the blob. Bits of ceiling plaster rained down. “If you come out now, we’ll let you live.”
Snippet from chapter 1:
I was pretty good at making an idiot of myself, but this had to be one of the most embarrassing things I’d done in my life.
The young man stood just inside the door in my living room, not quite sure whether to hold his hands in front of him, behind his back or, heavens forbid, in his pockets. So he settled on a little bit of each at different times, and never pulling any of the positions off with confidence. He looked and acted as awkward as I felt.
His name was Menor Ezmi. He came from Hedron–how could he not with a name like that–and was in Barresh working on a temporary security contract. He was well-groomed and quite handsome as far as I could judge other men for handsomeness: a well-shaped face, typical full Coldi lips, well-defined cheekbones. He was athletic and lacked the chubbiness of so many Coldi people and, as was fairly common amongst Hedron Coldi, his hair was curly. He wore it in a big, bushy ponytail.
His education was impeccable, he was smart and articulate and had applied to my advertisement in the local news bulletin with the understanding that we would not be paying him, because this wasn’t about money. In short, he ticked all the right boxes–for becoming the father of our child.
All the women in the house–and why were there so many of them all of a sudden?– stood or sat in the living room, looking at him, judging him as one judges a prize bull.
Eirani had something to say about his clothing. It was too formal according to her. She spoke keihu and he probably couldn’t understand her, and I wondered what too formal meant anyway and why clothing mattered when we were judging what was underneath.
Sheydu feigned disinterest from the couch, but I could see her give the man curious glances when she thought I wasn’t looking. It was hard to figure out what she thought at the best of times and this was not the most favourite of her subjects. With her greying hair and wiry but wrinkled form, she was easily the oldest person in the household, but I didn’t think she had any experience in the matter of choice of mate or relationships. I suspected that any man who showed interest in her in that way soon received a knee in the groin. Sheydu did not canoodle.
Xinadu was perhaps the biggest surprise of all the female members of my household. After our escapade on Asto, I had sent Nicha back to find himself a pair of subordinate zhaymas to complete our association and he had done just that, but he had also come back with a woman with whom he had negotiated a contract for a child. Here she was on my couch, young, gorgeous, extremely sensual, seated next to Nicha, and very, very pregnant. She announced that our poor subject of interest had very nice muscles, but she disliked his hair. Did he straighten it, she asked, and his nonplussed reaction to that question gave away that he was unaware and didn’t care that people could straighten hair. Xinanu’s own hair, of course, was very proper, very straight–she was from the Azimi clan.
She pushed herself from the couch with a groan and walked around the young man, eying him from top to bottom. If I hadn’t known that she had a good month to go still, I might have thought she’d be in danger of dropping the baby, but that was only the result of the fact that she liked wearing clothes at least two sizes too small.
“Hmm,” she said, and looked first at Thayu, who leaned against the doorframe with her arms crossed over her chest and who would have to carry the child, and then at me. “He’s a nice specimen. Apart from that horrible hair, he’s got nice shoulders, a good strong face, healthy legs and a butt to kill for, but tell me, why are you going for someone from outside?”
Thayu gave her the dead fish stare. Her gold-flecked eyes were the only thing moving in her otherwise impassive face.
“Because,” she said in her cold dead fish voice. “Because there are far too many Inner and First Circle people trying to get a foot in our household already.” She gave Xinanu a pointed look.
I waited for the return snipe, but Xinanu must have run out of pointed proverbs in this morning’s snipe-fest with Eirani. Maybe her pregnancy had finally slowed her down. Heavens be praised.
“Apart from the hair, I don’t mind him,” Xinadu carried on. “Better than the other ones so far.”
I cringed. That good old Coldi bluntness.
“Thank you,” the young man said, and that only made her bluntness more cringe-worthy.