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Precursor
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Precursor

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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 1999
Series: Foreigner: Arc 2: Book 1

1. Precursor
2. Defender
3. Explorer

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: First Contact
Hard SF
Soft SF
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Synopsis

Over three years have passed since the reappearance of the starship Phoenix - the same ship which two centuries left an isolated colony of humans to fend for themselves on the world of the volatile atevi.

Since that time, humans have lived in exile on the island of Mospheira, using a single diplomat, the paidhi, to trade advanced technology for the continued peace and safety of its people.

But the unexpected return of the Phoenix has shattered forever the fragile, carefully maintained political balance of these two nearly incompatible races. For the captains of the Phoenix offer the atevi something Mospheira never could - access to the stars.

For three breakneck years the atevi labor to build a space shuttle which will bear their representatives to the Phoenix, to strengthen connections with their new human and retain their bid for control of their world. But as soon as the shuttle proves spaceworthy, the captains of the Phoenix suddenly recall their planetary delegates, breaking diplomatic contact and initiating a vicious bid for political dominance.

But the powerful head of the atevi's Western Association is not to be outmaneuvered, and he sends his own paidhi, Bren Cameron, into space to negotiate.

Thrust into a political maelstrom with almost no preparation, Bren is empowered to use any means at his disposal to achieve the atevi's aim. But can Bren gain control of the station and political supremacy for the atevi without sparking a three-sided interspecies war?


Excerpt

The plane braked to an easy turn on a rain-puddled taxiway and rolled toward the security zone while the stewards reunited passengers and coats.

They reached a sedate stop, and there followed the immediate, familiar growl of the ladder-truck.

All four of Bren's seatmates, putting on their coats, simultaneously developed the same angle of furtive small stares toward the windows, dignified, not wishing to be seen staring as the ladder-truck moved up. But at the approach of the first atevi personnel, the first atevi they would ever have seen in the flesh, they stared. Ben and Kate had spent years studying and translating the language, but they had never seen the species who owned the planet they lived on; Ginny and Tom had no association whatever with atevi but trade and scientific exchange.

Bren himself fully expected the ladder-shaking rush of giants up the aluminum steps to meet the opening hatch. He didn't stare, rather composed himself to court standards, as the two atevi he hoped would have come to meet him arrived in the hatchway ... Banichi and Jago, senior pair of the four who guarded him: black skinned, black-haired, golden-eyed, in the black leather and silver of the Assassins' Guild, against whose size they all looked like children.

His bodyguard, appointed by Tabini-aiji: his dearest friends, humanly speaking ... and not friends: he was their duty, their association, as atevi felt things.

Human friends, even family, might desert you for very valid emotional reasons, even leave you for hire; and when he was on Mospheira, the human ways crept into his bloodstream and gave nesting room for doubts. But this pair, not being insane, wouldn't leave him except when duty took him overseas, where the law wouldn't let them go ... and the moment they could rejoin him, sure as sunset, here they were.

They found themselves facing strangers, probably no surprise to them, but their polite impassivity gave no clue even to him. In front of dignitaries from Mospheira they stood, armed, solemn - very, very tall.

"Banichi and Jago," he introduced his bodyguard, then in Ragi, revised the island names to a form the language could accommodate. "Ben Feldman, Kate Shugart, Tom Lund, Ginny Kroger. One believes Tabini-aiji has granted their request to go up on the shuttle."

"Honored," Banichi replied in Mosphei', in a voice that would rattle china. He even gave a nod of the head, signal honor to the paidhi's guests if they knew enough to recognize the fact.

"Honored," Ben said. It was his very first chance to speak a word of Ragi to an ateva face-to-face, and the atevi in question disappointingly spoke Mosphei' to him first. But it was still a life-defining moment for the two linguists. Bren heard the quaver, saw two pairs of eyes wide as saucers, unabashedly staring at what they'd devoted their lives to understand.

Tom and Ginny remained more reserved, staying more to the rear ... he knew that reaction, too. One felt smaller than usual. Even the scents atevi brought with them were mildly different. All of a sudden and for the first time, Mospheirans found themselves not in the majority, not giving the orders, not the masters of civilization. It was another life-defining moment, less pleasant than Ben and Kate's.

Copyright © 1999 by C. J. Cherryh


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