The three-time Hugo Award-winning author continues her second trilogy in the "superior alien-contact series." (Kirkus Reviews)
National best-selling author and winner of three Hugo Awards, C.J. Cherryh presents book two of her second Foreigner trilogy-the epic story of a single human delegate on a hostile alien planet.
In this long-awaited sequel to Precursor, the alien atevi enter the treacherous politics of space travel-as their one human negotiator is caught in the throes of a mutiny...
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C. J. Cherryh planned to write since the age of ten. When she was older, she learned to use a type writer while triple-majoring in Classics, Latin and Greek. At 33, she signed over her first three books to DAW and has worked with DAW ever since. She can be found at cherryh.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
All seats were filled. There was a little murmur of expectation.
Then a bell sounded.
Utter silence descended. A camera changed focus. That was the only sound now, lamplight momentarily gilding an imprudent lens.
That stroke of the bell called for meditation.
Next would come a statement from the head of house—Tabini, in this case. Bren had read the program somewhat before he entered a shadow too deep for humans to read.
And whatever the aiji had to say, the gathered lords would parse it for every detail. It was important—an address that could, if it went wrong, break the union of lords apart. It always could. Any chance word, gone amiss, could break the Association at any time—and in this context, bets were doubled. Tabini had made deals with human authorities, sent atevi to work on the space station, admitting a flood of new technologies. He’d had to, for a whole host of economic and practical reasons that sliced right across the ordinary order of politics, throwing conservatives into alliance with the most liberal of western powers.
He’d had to reach across traditional lines, across ethnical lines—across associational lines.
And so the agreement with humans widened, policy deliberately blind to the causes of the last world war, dancing across the shards of old resentments, skipping over divides of opinion that had once swum with blood.
Most of all, the crisis in the heavens and the need to secure a voice in that resolution had shoved the whole economy into a hellishly scary rush, a fever pitch run that no one at first had thought would last more than a month.
No longer than three years.
Then no longer than six.
As yet there was no slowdown, no cooldown, no pause for breath—and no meeting of the associated lords—until this.
The silence after that bell was so absolute that breathing itself seemed a disturbance...and in that silence, of all things, someone dropped a program, a crack of parchment on stone that set a twitch—if not a killing reflex—into every hair-triggered, Guild-trained nerve in the chamber.
Every Guild member had to skip a heartbeat. Every lord present had to make a conscious decision not to dive below the benches.
But it was only the next aiji, their someday ruler, diving almost to the edge of the flower-decked sarcophagus to rescue that wayward, unseemly folio.
In his haste it escaped his fingers on his retreat. Twice.
The boy had it. Scrambled back to his place in the standing line.
Cajeiri, Tabini’s and Damiri’s son, the hope of the Association, Tatiseigi’s grand-nephew—was the height and weight of the average human teenager—but not, by any means, average, human, or teenaged. Cajeiri tried—God knew he tried, but somehow his feet found obstacles, his hands lost their grip on perfectly ordinary objects, and when Cajeiri would swear to all gods most fortunate that he was standing still, everyone else called it fidgeting.
Now of all times...in front of the whole assembled Association, the lords of the aishidi’tat, this was no time for boys to be boys, or for a child to be—whatever he might be.
Cajeiri was invisible in the first row again. Silence hung all about him. The dignity of the highest houses settled on his young shoulders. Tabini, Tatiseigi—now Ilisidi, in whose care the young unfortunate attended the ceremony—were all in question in that behavior. Fosterage was the rule of the great houses, once a child of rank left the cradle. Tatiseigi, the maternal uncle, had had a go at applying courtly polish, in the rural, rigid politics of the Atageini stronghold in the central west. Now Ilisidi had him: in her district,
modernist meant someone who installed a flush toilet in a thousand-year-old stronghold.
God help the boy.
A second bell. Solemnity recovered. This was the second point, fragile second, unfortunate second: atevi lived by numbers, died by the numbers. Two of anything presumed there would be a third. There must be a third. The very note, echoing in the stone recesses of the place, on this occasion, gathered up the tension in the air and prepared to braid it into a cord...if the third bell, please God, would only ring without unfortunate omen.
Cajeiri held himself absolutely still. Two would ring ominously even in an atevi six-year-old’s brain. Two always meant pay attention: another will follow.
Bren had been to Malguri himself. In a way, he wished he could go back there, have another try of his own at a life a human wasn’t regularly admitted even to see. In a certain measure he so envied the boy that chance.
Ilisidi had her hands full. He did know that. The boy, thus far, with the best intentions, had destroyed two historic porcelains, set off a major security alarm, and ridden a startled mecheita across newly-poured cement in Tatiseigi’s formal garden.
Finally, unbearably, with the least shifting of bodies in anticipation, Tabini, head of house, foremost of the Ragi atevi, aiji of the whole aishidi’tat, moved out of the row to the single lighted lamp that sat before the sarcophagus.
Tabini, tall shadow, took a slender straw, took light from one lamp and lit one of two others.
Two lamps lit.
Jago, armed and informed, nudged Bren’s hand with the back of hers. Pay attention. Be on your guard.
Banichi, on his other side, didn’t move.
Every bodyguard in the whole chamber must be thinking the same, prepared for anything. It was in all the machimi, the history-plays: in the feudal age, in Malguri’s age, the time of bright banners and heraldry, assemblies thus invited had been murdered wholesale, slaughtered by hidden archers. Whole tables of diners had fallen ill at once. Ladies had perished in poisoned baths—name the death: someone had delivered it.
Hearts beat, atevi, and in one case, human, with utter trepidation.
Tabini, damn him, knew it. The third bell had not yet rung. And Tabini turned, in that terrible, unprecedented interval.
“I speak,” Tabini declared, in that resonant, still-young voice, “between the second and the third bell. We live...between the second and the third bell of our associated lives. We live...on the edge of decision and chance. We live...between expectation and fulfillment. Between the second and the third bell of our collective existence, I am Valasi’s son, I am Valasi’s heir...I am Valasi’s successor.”
After the hasdrawad and the tashrid, the bicameral legislature, had determined for the second time that Ilisidi would not be aiji, they had appointed Tabini to head the aishidi’tat.
And the whole assembly, caught between the bells and the lights, heard felicitous, redeeming threes. Every atevi nerve rang as a human could only intellectually comprehend—not feel, gut-deep: felicitous one, then the two strokes of we live. Then I speak, disastrous two—felicitous three of we live. And now no resolution of the first cahi, the first proposal, at all, but the infelicitous two of I am. A human brain could short-circuit keeping up with the bracketing structures, but Bren swore he felt it in his own nerves: and he felt his knees go weak when Tabini gave the assembly that third, redemptive I am. The whole audience held its breath, angry as they must be at this tactic. That, in this audience, didn’t matter. They were caught up, snared, and couldn’t move. Daren’t move. Felt the aishidi’tat threatened—and were drawn, unwillingly, to hope that it, and their lives, continued.
“I speak as your appointed guide into time to come,” Tabini said. And delivered the next third stroke, that painfully wound-up, merciful third: “I speak for the unity of the assembly of us all.
“We do not forget,” Tabini continued, as nerve and flesh all but liquified in relief and bodyguards stood down from red alert. Tabini swept on, in possession of all attention. Thank God no program dropped. Breathing itself was at a minimum. Tabini’s oratory was all fortunate threes now, rapid, hammering into nerves still resounding to two strokes of the bell, still waiting for the resolution of their universe. “We do not break our strong connections with all that Valasi-aiji built. We do not abrogate our traditions. The more knowledge we acquire, the more we rationally comprehend the universe, the more we control our own destiny—”
Sensitive spot: the number-counters who so powerfully ruled the traditional world had long discounted the numbers of the heavens, meaning they had deliberately, scornfully dismissed the work of astronomers, who had failed to foresee the Landing.
But the modern-day Astronomer Emeritus, a genius of his age, brandished numbers that confounded the number-counters—those mathematicians who claimed to guide the less talented to understand the balance of the universe. The newly respectable Astronomer Emeritus was Tabini’s. And with Tabini’s blessing, the Astronomer Emeritus worked to understand the stars and make reliable paths through the heavens. The numbers flowing down from the heavens now ran a starship and promised to connect atevi to a rational universe that also accounted for humans—
To a universe, what was more, that brought them a second foreign species. That this new species happened to be hostile—well, well, but the soaring optimism of good numbers insisted the difficulties could be overcome, irresistibly so.
Atevi relied on a rational universe.
Humans on the island enclave of Mospheira had faith in miracles.
Humans on the starship over their heads had more faith in a second armed starship and a planetful of allies, in a universe otherwise sparse with life.
But atevi being an independent lot, fiercely so, and hating worse than poison to be handed a fait accompli involving someone else’s numbers, had politely declined to make too strong a point that a human species that had misplaced its own home planet was not infallible. In the main atevi were impressed by what they saw going on in the heavens—what, at least, the dedicated and the suspicious alike, armed with binoculars, could make out as going on in the heavens. It was at least a personal enough contact with the presence up there to make it a national obsession, and binoculars and telescopes enjoyed a vogue at garden parties and secret meetings.
The latter—since a last die-hard cadre of the traditionalists wanted their world back the way Tabini had inherited it, sans telescopes, sans autographed roof tiles—sans the frantic push of atevi interests skyward. But the majority even of the conservatives had dropped the traditionalist fight over the very concept of Air Traffic Control: they’d lost that argument, long since, and scrambled to get aerospace industry in their own districts.
Yet did the builders of such facilities properly consider the numbers? They derived them from new-fangled computers, to the contempt of the die-hard traditionalists and the dedicated ’counters. Dared one trust them?
“The more numbers we gain,” Tabini was saying to the assembled lords, “the more I myself appreciate Valasi’s work. Not,” Tabini added, before certain die-hard conservatives burst a blood vessel, “that I would argue less with my father, but certainly that I would listen more. His time was too soon to know everything: but in his wisdom he laid a foundation for the aishidi’tat that would assure a strong leadership...and now I know that he saw change coming. Now I know that he prepared for it. Now I know that my father was a wise man.”
Oh, that was clever: generational authority was a tenet of the conservatives...while the aiji’s increasing power over their lives as a central authority was a continual sore point. Now Tabini equated one with the other, wound the cord of their own argument around a strong young fist, and yanked.
Count your fingers when dealing with Tabini. His enemies and his allies both said that.
“My father warned me,” Tabini said. “He saw us growing reliant on advances that we would never have the chance to make for ourselves. But because these inventions, like all real things, come of true numbers, he saw that they use the natural universe, he saw that they were good, he saw that if we did invent them they would be much the same. He had, however, every intent of shaping what came to us into our own design, he had every intent of maintaining sovereignty—” Another sore point. “And because it follows from every previous invention—he clearly had every intent of going into space.” The cadence dragged them right into it...and marched on, leaving the fiercest opponents to mull over a very strong point: if not that aim, what aim? “In the new numbers, our economy runs white-hot. We have no hunger, we have no feuds, we have no want of employment for the clans. We mine, we build, we distribute, and we have no scarcity anywhere. Thanks to our vantage from orbit we rescue a forest from blight. We warn a village on the coast to put up the storm shutters. We cure diseases we once thought hopeless. In the new numbers we send and speak and travel from one end to the other of every association, without wires or roads that blight the world. In the new numbers, we draw power from the sun’s free light without smoke to obscure the sky.
“Never let us forget what is kabiu, or break the rhythm of the seasons, or of the wild things, or of our own bodies. Let us never forget how to build a fire, light a candle, or use our hands to spin thread. Let no single village forget how to weave cloth, shape a pot, or hunt its own food. If a machine made a pot, it serves for a while. But if hands made it, it is kabiu, and fit to pass to our children. This was the true understanding I learned from Valasi. This is what I now give to my son. This is what he will in his day give to his son. This observance of true value is what keeps kabiu. This is the source of things unseen. This quality, this fitness remains so long as we have the keen sense of what is real. And in a hundred thousand pots, one is kabiu.
“We can heal the sick, warn against weather, and supply common pots to every village in the world. But let us teach our children to make what is kabiu, and to recognize what is kabiu, and to value what is kabiu.
“This is the unity of one. This is the aishidi’tat. This is our heritage.”
A bell rang. Tabini lit the third lamp in utter stillness.
The whole universe seemed to start again. A camera changed focus. Feet shifted. Breath came in and out.
Tabini turned, faced the assembly and lifted his arms. “Go. Observe silence for this one day on the matters under debate. Meet with me tomorrow.”
Silence on matters under debate. Tabini had just put all the burn...
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