Hoping for a free meal or even a loan, down-on-his-luck actor Lorenzo Smythe buys a drink for Dak Broadbent, a spaceship captain trying to pretend he is something else. Broadbent offers more than Smythe could have hoped for, an acting job at a good salary. Before the final arrangements can be made, however, they are attacked by a human and a Martian, a race Smythe cannot tolerate, partly because of their smell. Smythe finds himself an accomplice in the deaths of the two attackers and the disposal of their bodies.
The acting job is revealed to be the impersonation of John Joseph Bonforte, one of the most important politicians in the empire and leader of the opposition Expansionist coalition, whose political philosophy, based on equality of humans and nonhumans, is at odds with Smythe’s prejudices. It is suspected that terrorists with links to the ruling Humanity Party have kidnapped Bonforte to keep him from taking part in an adoption ceremony at a Martian nest, an act that would further cement human-Martian relations. Because Martian society is based on rigid rules of protocol, should Bonforte not attend for any reason except death, relations between Martians and humans would be so badly ruptured that a massacre of humans—which would result in a human war against the Martians—would likely result, and Bonforte’s policy of coexistence would fall apart.
The plot follows Smythe as he prepares for his role with the help of those closest to Bonforte:...
(The entire section is 603 words.)