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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 2017
Series: Foreigner: Arc 6: Book 3

1. Tracker
2. Visitor
3. Convergence

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction / Fantasy
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(13 reads / 9 ratings)


Knowledge about the dangerous situation in adjacent space rests only with Bren Cameron, the human diplomat to the alien court of the atevi, four starship captains, and the two chiefs of state -- both the human and the atevi, who share the planet.

Bren is obliged to carry the just-signed treaty to the human government on an island some forty miles off the shores of the atevi-ruled megacontinent, and -- without explaining the dire situation that would send the people into chaos -- to arrange for the human refugees who are crowding the space station to be landed on the island, since the atevi will not grant more land to the human residents of their planet. Bren, a native of this island, is now an atevi official -- trying to prepare the human inhabitants for the arrival of many more desperate human refugees from space.



Home again. But not, immediately, to the Bujavid's third-floor residency. Tabini-aiji had sent a request to the Bujavid's train station, hand-delivered by Assassins' Guild, to meet with him in his downstairs office...uncommon venue, but likewise safe from eavesdropping, even from servant staff.

And from immediate family. Which, in the situation they had in the world, might be a needful consideration.

Such considerations applied, even in the narrow confines of the lift car that rose from the underground train station. Bren Cameron, paidhi-aiji, translator, diplomat--and carrying, in a document case, the outcome of an encounter that still had the world anxious and unsettled--also carried a secret. His four atevi bodyguards, Guild themselves--black-skinned and golden- eyed, head and shoulders taller than most humans--all knew it. The aiji-dowager, Ilisidi, diminutive for an ateva, armed with a cane that lent stability to aged bones in the long, rapid rise--she knew the gist of it. So did her two bodyguards. The third of their company, Cajeiri, aged fortunate nine years, Tabini-aiji's son, did not. His bodyguard, Guild, but still in their teens, did not, and Bren had been extremely careful to keep it that way.

Three hours back on Earth and they were all still suffering, to varying degrees, the effects of the express shuttle flight from the station.

The lift stopped, opened doors on the ornate lower floor with its travertine columns, its plinths with ornate porcelains and its tapestries and hand-loomed carpet runners. This corridor, this area, was at a T intersection with the main entry hall, the public areas, the audience chamber, the public museum and state library, the office of records--places where the public went.

This hallway--no. A black velvet rope on four gilt stanchions provided a gentle security. Two black-clad members of the Guild stood there, armed, a less gentle reminder that, no, these were not public lifts, and the upper and lower floors were not on the tour.

Bren and company crossed the hall. The guards at the office doors, Tabini's own--on loan from his grandmother the aiji-dowager herself, in point of fact--opened the doors without a word exchanged.

The three of them entered. All the bodyguards but the dowager's two, Cenedi and Nawari, remained outside; and Bren walked hindmost--mere court official here, if not in the heavens. Tabini sat at his desk, isolate in a very large office, a place of towering windows, immense tapestries, carpet far more ancient than that bearing traffic outside.

There were chairs, felicitous three. Cenedi arranged the endmost for Ilisidi, would have taken her cane, but she retained possession of it, and Cenedi and Nawari withdrew from the room entirely.
Tabini turned his chair to face them as Cajeiri settled into the chair beside his great-grandmother, and Bren sat down...feeling a little plainly dressed for the executive office, for the aiji of the majority of the world--very little cuff and collar lace, which tended to float in lack of gravity, plain coat and trousers, a ribbon that might be a little askew: Bren's bodyguard had re-tied it on the train.

"Grandmother," Tabini said. "Son of mine. Paidhi."

That was the greeting, for three who'd just come from the heavens, with a document guaranteeing the world's survival, at least as regarded the kyo presence up there. It was not want of concern. Concern was evident if one read atevi, and Bren did. Half-rising, he laid the all-important document case on Tabini's desk.

"One worried," Tabini said then, "regarding the weather."

Ilisidi waved her hand, dismissive. "It would not dare storm. We were assured we would land well ahead of the front. As we did. The pilots were quite confident, or we might have stayed circling the world indefinitely, we were assured. Read the document, grandson. It took considerable effort to obtain it."

"Not only among the kyo, as one hears," Tabini said, making no such move. "One trusts they are departing."

"Far more rapidly than they arrived, aiji-ma," Bren said.

"Without further communication."

"Without a word," Bren said.

"And Gin-nandi is now in charge," Tabini said, "of both Mospheiran and Reunioner folk up there."

"Yes, honored Father," Cajeiri said.

"Gin-nandi will request atevi assistance to land the Reunioners."

"Yes, aiji-ma," Bren said. "They have not fared well on the station. There are security issues."

"One understands that the Presidenta of Mospheira considers them all his people. But that we will receive a request to transport numbers of Reunioners on atevi shuttles. Have we seals on that?"

"We shall have," Bren said. "Likewise we shall have requests for landing zones for parachuted capsules."

"Not bearing Reunioners."

"No, aiji-ma. Only cargo displaced from the shuttles. This was Gin-nandi's idea, and it will move that population to safety without a shuttle-building campaign."

"The Presidenta is not about to suggest that we subsidize settlement for these people."

"He will hope only for your cooperation in the program. They are a human problem."

"You have the children and their parents lodged with Lord Geigi. It is your intention to land them on the next shuttle earnest of things to come."

"A pleasant, an innocent face on the undertaking, aiji-ma-- representative of most of these people. They have suffered very heavy losses--in the kyo assault on Reunion, few households were left intact. The kyo themselves regret the attack. They have expressed that. They misinterpreted the presence of the colony. They have expressed sorrow at the situation, and they have absolutely no inclination to do harm to atevi or to Mospheirans or the Reunioners. This document is a resolution of disengagement, with the provision that, should we wish to contact them peacefully, there is an appointed place and procedure."

Tabini nodded. "At Reunion. Which they will retain."

"They are doubtless sifting it for every morsel of information they can gain from it," Ilisidi remarked dryly, "and since we have accorded humans an island to live on and half a station orbiting over our heads, we have some interest in their interest, but we have observed the kyo representatives, and we find them reasonable folk."

"One was Prakuyo's son," Cajeiri said. "And we talked, honored Father. We spent a lot of time talking. I, myself. And their security played chess with mani."

"One can only imagine," Tabini said, equally dryly, while the document case lay untouched on his desk. "Chess, was it?"

"A very interesting opponent," Ilisidi said. "I shall play you a round, grandson, using his style."

One had absolutely no doubt that that would be an interesting game...and no game, but a distillation of observations that didn't fit neatly in the vocabulary they'd collected. Bren had his own set of notes he'd taken since, and on the way down--to preserve the immediacy of the information. Likely no one else could read those, either: circles, diagrams, arrows, and lines of relationship and relevance: non-words that had no equivalent in the languages he dealt with, words that might combine concepts humans and atevi didn't see as related, and that he had to commit to more readable notes. It was an architecture atevi might have to deal with--someday. Not soon, however. The document in that case saw to that.

And left him questioning his own sense of right and wrong.

"I shall look forward to it," Tabini said, "once we have resolved the lingering problems, such as onto whose land Lord Geigi proposes to drop the equivalent of rail cars from the heavens, and how we shall secure the safety of these children Lord Geigi has as guests."

"We might bring them and their parents down on our shuttle," Cajeiri said, "and they might be at Najida, honored Father, at least until there is a place for them."

"No," Tabini said.

"Honored Father--"

"They are human. They are Reunioner. Someday, as we suspect, they will be of service to you, as nand' Bren is to us. When you came back to us, you benefitted from atevi associations. You began to feel man'chi, you had the chance to form associations in a normal way..."

"They have man'chi to me, honored Father."

"Nand' Bren may argue that they do not. They may have a profound sentiment, but a human sentiment, son of mine, which, since they are not adult, is still forming. They have lived in fear much of their lives, have been uprooted from their home, transported across space in less than comfortable circumstances, subjected to Tillington's ill-run administration, entertained in great luxury on Earth and finally dropped into Lord Geigi's household in the heavens--but they have never seen humans live as humans live on Mospheira. Now they will see all their people brought down to the world to become Mospheirans--yet one more experience in their young lives. You may ask nand' Bren what his opinion is. But consider that you have the satisfaction of man'chi in this household. What connection does their birth fit them to feel? And should they not be given the chance to discover it, and should not their parents have that chance?"

Cajeiri was silent a moment--not an angry silence; not an entirely happy one.

"They should," Cajeiri said then. "One understands. One did not feel, then--all that one feels now. One hopes--one hopes the same for them."

A human had no precise idea what Cajeiri was feeling at that moment. A human could imagine--but dared not inject too much that was human into it. Or too little. Pain was involved, pain of separation. Massively frustrated instincts figured in it.

So did human attachments on the other side--matter. The children needed the ability to judge human folk accurately, the ability to judge people--and trust people--and distrust with accuracy. The ability to form those concepts like self-worth and selfless love...feelings that could go hurtfully sideways in the interface between human and atevi. He himself had had his human sensitivities well-developed, if a bit over-developed in some cases--before he took on the paidhi's job, and learned that when atevi committed, they committed profoundly, potentially for life and death.

He had that devotion, in those four outside this room: in Banichi and Jago, Tano and Algini--a connection so close as to be self, an upward flow of loyalty that didn't ask questions in a crisis and didn't want reciprocity from him, no, not in the least. An aiji's role was to be protected, so he could use his skill to keep them all out of crisis in the first place, or to pick up the pieces when things went wrong. That was how atevi felt centered and heart-sure.

No, Cajeiri didn't want to be one of those kids. He wanted to steer their lives for them, in a good way. In the best and most devoted and atevi way, being what he was, which was literally born to lead. While they took care of him. And right now doing that meant giving them up, which was, for Cajeiri, as painful as unrequited love for a human. It was a lot to ask of a nine-year-old whose privilege was absolute, and who, in his highly securitied world, had absolutely no one who wasn't adult and taking care of him. His teenaged aishid, his bodyguard, was only a few years older than he was. That relationship would deepen over time. One sincerely hoped it would. There was nothing wrong with that foursome, nothing lacking but the profound experience that had welded young Cajeiri to four human kids in a voyage before that atevi foursome had ever had a chance to affect him.

Damn, Bren thought. Just--damn.

"Our son," Tabini said, nodding slightly, "our heir, satisfies all expectations. Go upstairs and please your mother."

Dismissed. Atop it all.

But the young gentleman knew there were secrets. He waded hip-deep in secrets, only some of which he was privy to. A year ago he might have protested his not knowing what had gone on, when messages had come from the kyo ship and his great- grandmother's door had shut, sealing one kyo and Cenedi, her chief bodyguard, into conference--and not him, and not the young kyo who had sat with him, equally excluded.

Secrets. Damned right there were secrets. Even the dowager didn't know all of them.

"One is gratified, honored Father." Cajeiri quietly rose, bowed--Bren likewise rose, Cajeiri's rank demanding it. His actions just now demanded it.

Cajeiri left, quietly.

Tabini took up the document case and opened it, extracting a piece of paper or its analog never made on Earth, and bedecked with seals and stamps of some substance not wax, written in various colors not ordinary in atevi documents. Three languages, three forms of writing, one of which evoked sounds neither human nor atevi could duplicate...

"You have read this," Tabini said.

"Only the paidhi can read all three," Ilisidi said with a wave of her hand. "He believes they are identical enough."
"One can decipher key words," Bren said, "to indicate that the substance is the same. Read it, no. One was obliged to take their word for it."

"Under the circumstances," Tabini said, perusing the document, "understandable." He scanned it for a moment. "Your hand, your seal, is set to all sections but one."

For the Ragi version, and the Mosphei', it was his signature and his imprint. The kyo version, Prakuyo an Tep had written, by hand, and signed all three documents. As he had signed, for the President of Mospheira, and the aiji of the aishidi'tat, and the four Phoenix captains, all of whom he had represented. One document was headed out of the solar system at the moment. One was on Tabini's desk. One remained to deliver to the President of Mospheira, to whom the kyo imputed all human authority, on Earth, on the station, and over the ship that served it--a point it had not, at the time, seemed safe to contradict.

"It seems a very simple document," Tabini said. "I know you, paidhi. Did you gain all you wished?"

"I gained all I wished."

"In these simple words."

"Complexity and subclauses seemed only likely to complicate matters. In essence, the kyo will not advance beyond Reunion in our direction-- ne has to understand that, while everything in space may be reckoned as a sphere, and boundaries are difficult to define, there are paths in the heavens, routes dictated by the avoidance of hazards and the availability of resources. Reunion is a place between us and them. Reunion is our agreed boundary in their direction."

"They may visit it but we may not."

Copyright © 2017 by C. J. Cherryh


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