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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 2003
Series: Foreigner: Arc 2: Book 3

1. Precursor
2. Defender
3. Explorer

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: First Contact
Hard SF
Soft SF
Avg Member Rating:
(29 reads / 11 ratings)


It has been nearly ten years since the starship Phoenix retuned to the abandoned station orbiting the world of the alien atevi. This station, called Alpha, had been deserted for centuries following a rift between a faction of the station's inhabitants and the spacers' autocratic Pilot's Guild. For two hundred years this splinter faction had shared a fragile coexistence with the atevi, living in isolation on the island of Mospheira, communicating with the brilliant but volatile atevi by the use of a single highly trained diplomat, the paidhi, and trading technological information for continued peace and safety.

The unexpected return of the Phoenix has forever changed the lives of both atevi and Mospheirans, for over the ensuing decade, the captains of the Phoenix have brought both the atevi and their human counterparts into space. Their motivation seemed simple: Reunion Station, a human station in another sector of space, had been destroyed by aliens.

But on his deathbed, the senior captain of the Phoenix admits that he lied to the crew - that Reunion was merely damaged, not destroyed, and many people, including family and friends of the Phoenix crew may have survived. At this disclosure, the crew rebels and forces the Phoenix to undertake a rescue mission to Reunion.

But the crew and captains do not go alone, for on board are Bren Cameron, brilliant human paidhi, now representing Tabini-aiji, the atevi ruler, and Tabini's grandmother Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, a fearsome, wily, and ambitious atevi leader with an agenda of her own.

Trapped in a distant star system with very little fuel left, facing a potentially bellicose alien ship, how can Bren help to avoid interspecies war when the notoriously secretive Pilot's Guild aboard Reunion Station won't even cooperate with their own ship, and may have kept the inhabitants of their own station ignorant of their true situation?


Steam went up as the shower needled Bren's back - a moment of blissful content in a voyage neither that blissful nor content.

And considering the call he'd just gotten in the middle of his night, he stayed, head against the wall, longer than his habit, eyes shut, letting the steam make a warm, blind cocoon around him, letting the shower run on recycle for uncounted warm minutes. Complex input was suspended, output temporarily unnecessary.

But a brain habituated to adrenaline could stand tranquility only so long before worry tunneled its way back.

What's Jase want? - followed closely by - We're not that far from moving - and:

This could be the big move. Natural, wouldn't it be, if that's what the navigators are doing up there, setting up the final move, that Jase would want to talk now?

It's my night. He knew he'd wake me up. Jase could come here.

Couldn't be any ship-problem, could it? Nothing mechanical. Mechanical problems surely couldn't be at issue

That was it. Now he'd done it. He'd thought about the ship itself ... about the frail bubble of metal and ceramics around his cabin, beyond the shower, beyond the diplomatic enclave of passengers on five-deck.

Said ship had already endured, be it centuries ago, one spectacular and notorious navigational failure, stranding the original colonial mission in the great uncharted nowhere of the universe - after which everything else had happened: escaping a nearly lethal star, reaching an inhabited planet. The survivors had built Alpha Station, in orbit about that planet - and developed a bitter rift between those who wanted to stay in space and serve the ship, and those wanted to go down to the green planet, take their fortunes and their lives in their hands and cast their lot with the steam-age locals.

A whole world of things had happened after that. The Alpha colonists, taking that dive into atmosphere, forever changed themselves, their culture and the native people in a direction no one had predicted.

Meanwhile that faction of humans who'd stayed in space had taken the ship and gone searching for their misplaced homeworld. But the fervor for that mission had come aground a second time. They'd ended up building another station in a fuel-rich system. Reunion was its name. And things had gone not so badly for them - until a hundred-odd years into that station's existence, an unknown species had taken exception to their poking into other solar neighborhoods and attacked Reunion to make the point.

So the ship had come running frantically back to Alpha looking for fuel and help.

Which was at least the beginning of reasons why this ship now, with a sizeable delegation of concerned parties from the former Alpha colony and the indigenous government, was headed back out to that remote station - ten years late, because things at Alpha hadn't been quite in order to jump to the ship's commands. The captain who'd ordered the mission was dead, Alpha Station was in the hands of the atevi, the native, once steam-age species, who'd taken command of their own destiny - and the aiji, the atevi ruler, had sent his grandmother and his heir, among others, to see for themselves what sort of mess the ship-fok had made of their affairs at Reunion.

That was the quick version of ship history: a breakdown, a stranding, and local wars wherever they went. Given the ship's run of luck at important moments, and given a "see-me-in-my-office" from a friend who also happened to be one of the ship's two captains, well, yes, a dedicated planet-dweller, descendant of the Alpha colonists, could feel justs a little bit of anxiety about this after-midnight summons.

Copyright © 2003 by C. J. Cherryh


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