Returning to the hard-science-fiction style of her best-selling CHANUR series, Cherryh presents a suspenseful tale of independent Merchanters in conflict with the restrictions of the ASTEX mining monopoly.
Bird and Ben are partners, a team able to endure months of confinement in their tiny ship in spite of differences in age, experience, and outlook. The discovery of a derelict free-runner ship like their own begins a series of bizarre events which threatens to destroy their friendship. They approach the wreck, expecting to find an empty hulk to salvage. Instead, they encounter the pilot, apparently insane but alive, and the appalling mystery of his lover-partner’s disappearance and her certain death.
Dekker’s presence brings to the forefront philosophical clashes between Bird and Ben even before they begin the month-long journey from the asteroid belt. Once safely back at the station, Dekker’s incoherent and incredible story serves as a focus for political factions. But the shocking announcement of the discovery of a body inconceivably distant from the site of Dekker’s “accident” polarizes free-runners and Shepards alike against the conspiratorial ASTEX corporation into deadly warfare.
Brilliantly visualizing the political and financial probabilities in an imaginary but well-developed future, Cherryh peoples that world with believable characters facing universal moral issues. The result is a novel that holds the reader’s attention from the first page to the last.