Bren Cameron, acting as the representative of the atevi's political leader, Tabini-aiji, as well as translator between humans and atevi, has undertaken a mission to the human enclave of Mospheira. Both his presence on the island and his absence from the continent have stirred old enemies to realize new opportunities.
Old hatreds. Old grudges. Old ambitions.
The situation has strengthened the determination of power-seekers on both sides of the strait. Bren knows most of them very well, but not all of them well enough. The space station on which the world increasingly relies is desperate to get more supplies up to orbit and to get a critical oversupply of human refugees down to the world below. Rationing is in force on the station, but the overpopulation problem has to be solved quickly—and Bren's mission on Mospheira has expanded to include preparation for that landing.
First down will be the three children to whom Tabini's son has a close connection. But following them will be thousands of humans who have never set foot on a planet, humans descended from colonists and officers who split off from Mospheiran humans two hundred years before in a bitter parting of the ways. There is no way the atevi, native to the world, will cede any more land to these new arrivals: they will have to share the island. But certain Mospheirans are willing to use force to prevent these refugees from settling among them.
Bren's job is as general peacemaker—but old enemies want war. Is Bren's diplomatic acumen enough to prevent a war that both sides are prepared to wage?
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The rainy day in Port Jackson brought a cool breeze from the open balcony doors. It was quite a lovely balcony, though Bren Cameron’s atevi security, watching from across the room, didn’t want him to cross that threshold.
The doorway, however—theirs being a third-floor suite in an isolated mansion on the highest hill in town—still afforded a spectacular view of the city, and Bren stood leaning on the door frame, enjoying the moving air. Tall buildings of the present century stood on the right and left. The lower rooftops of the gracious old homes and shops of the prior century barely showed below, descending toward the harbor, with a wide gray gap. One couldn’t quite see the harbor from here, but the center of that gap was the sea—the strait that divided the human island of Mospheira from the vast megacontinent that belonged to the atevi, the world’s native inhabitants.
Bren’s brother Toby was out there on his boat, possibly the safest man on the planet, anchored as he was next to an atevi naval vessel. In his own way, Toby had become as much a bridge between human and atevi, as Bren himself. Toby had carried secure messages both ways across that strait during the Troubles on the mainland, and more than once provided a quiet and safe passage for people and goods, the most recent being his delivery of Bren and his entourage to the island.
Bren’s work here was, technically, complete. He’d made his reports, convinced the necessary officials that the answer to the overpopulation in the station orbiting above was to get the refugees from Reunion Station down to the world and integrate them into Mospheiran society. More, he’d set the right people into place to accomplish that deceptively difficult task.
Only one job remained, and that was to be here when the next shuttle landed—to greet the three young people so singularly important to the aiji’s son, Cajeiri, and to see to their safe and secure settlement into their new life.
That, however...was still days ahead. And meanwhile—Bren and his bodyguard remained out of touch with the mainland, cut off from information, more isolated from doings over there than they had been on the space station. A phone call could reach the station. He had that, which could inform him on doings up there, and he could ask what the station knew—but the station itself would have nothing on the things that worried him. If it had—it might have called him. But it had not.
Toby might know something. A single call right now, and Toby would come into that harbor. Toby might not speak that much Ragi, but he could at least ask the naval escort for news—if the navy itself was told anything beyond its mission, which was to keep Toby safe, to keep one Bren Cameron safe, when he chose to come back across the strait—and to provide the human government of Mospheira a visible earnest of the attention of the aishidi’tat, the Western Association, which was to say, the government of the mainland.
That was the outward face: the aishidi’tat is watching. The paidhi-aiji has the aiji’s strong support in his presentations, and in his demands.
But there had been no word about goings-on inside the aishidi’tat, nothing to explain the uncommon goings-on around Cajeiri, the unprecedented appearance by the nine-year-old heir, not just on atevi national television, but feeding over to the island as well. The aiji’s family simply did not appear on camera, but there had been the aiji’s nine-year-old son boarding the train, talking about a visit to his great-uncle Tatiseigi. Alone—give or take his bodyguard. No sign of the aiji-dowager, who ordinarily would have been with him. Not going with Lord Tatiseigi, but going alone to visit him—when Lord Tatiseigi had been under strong pressure by his own party. Conservatives were trying to throw their weight around now that other crises had, in their opinion, abated. Had they gotten the old man that upset?
Other crises were not that abated. And the Conservatives getting their way could bring one of those crises alive, with all that went with it.
They had just saved the planet from calamity, for God’s sake. Could the Conservatives not let the situation lie quiet for a season?
Unfortunately—Tabini-aiji himself would not. Tabini had presented the Conservatives new worries. A treaty with an alien power? That didn’t greatly concern them. The fact that two Conservative lordships lay fallow with the next legislative session looming, and Tabini was proposing to fund the landing of more humans from the heavens, to land at their own spaceport, while the aiji was flinging precious cargo down from the station to light gods-knew-where on the hallowed soil of the mainland? They were upset. They had harried Tatiseigi to help them fill at least one of the vacant lordships, and get back a vote that could possibly slow Tabini’s plans.
Tabini had made a countermove. The nine-year-old heir had just been moved into public view, sent to bolster his great-uncle, with the aiji-dowager, his usual guardian, nowhere in sight?
What was he up to?
God, he wanted information.
But calling Toby in just brought too much attention to Toby, the phones were absolutely not to be trusted, even if they spoke Ragi, and focusing the Mospheiran news agencies onto events on the mainland, at a time when focus on the next shuttle landing best served the Mospheiran political process...and the future of five thousand human refugees...
No. His need to know was not paramount. His finishing his job here was. A good appearance, a good impression, and focusing Mospheira on its own peaceful future—that was the best use of the paidhi-aiji. The agreements had to be kept, for the sake of the refugees, and for the stability of the aishidi’tat. Tabini-aiji did not commit himself to unprecedented favors and then have the recipients decide they’d changed their minds.
Banichi came to stand by him companionably—senior of his aishid, black-skinned, golden-eyed, a head and shoulders taller than a tall human and wearing a uniform, Guild black, that he’d likely worn every day since he was a teenager. Banichi was likely asking himself what the paidhi found out there of such interest, given a misting rain and an impenetrable gray in the direction of the homeland.
They’d been together long enough, however, that Banichi needn’t even ask the question.
“I am remembering the city,” Bren answered. “I wonder how my brother is faring out there on the water, and what he knows that we do not.” Two questions begged the felicitous number, three, to settle the universe in order. “I wonder why the young gentleman is traveling alone. And I am becoming very anxious to be home.”
Home. It was curious to stand here on the island of his birth and say that, but it was true. Beyond any doubt he had had left, it was true.
“We might have flown,” Banichi said. “We still might, at any hour, and easily return to Mospheira for the landing.”
“We might have,” he said. “We might. But one hesitates to excite the news folk with distracting questions. I take it there is no news from the mainland?”
“Nothing,” Banichi said. Guild communication was necessarily by radio, secure in its codes, but apt to raise curiosity when used here, and scant of the very sort of detail they might most want to know. “We have indicated our concern. We have communicated with the aiji.”
“And I dare not.” There were phones—but phone service to the mainland involved the Messengers’ Guild, which was not to be relied upon, even yet. There was also, somewhat more secure than what passed via the Messengers’ Guild, a communication link via Lord Geigi’s office up on the station. But Geigi had thus far sent them nothing regarding any problem.
And if he did involve himself in something the aiji had not seen fit to communicate to him, he could be seen as putting himself in play, which could ratchet up a situation on the mainland that they, crux of his problem, imperfectly understood. Quiet on this side of the straits served one interest; quiet on the other presumably served the aiji, or the aiji would have said something.
He had not gotten a call from Tabini-aiji—only one from his own apartment staff, that had been far from clear.
“Your aishid has a theory,” Banichi said, “regarding the message from staff.”
He looked at Banichi, all attention.
“Staff said,” Banichi said, “that ‘uncle,’ which has to be Lord Tatiseigi, has found a ‘replacement.’ Replacement for what, we ask. We imagine two possibilities. One, that Lord Tatiseigi has declared his own heir, a successor for the Atageini Clan. This would be a great relief, but would not bear on our business here, and it would not be something for staff to mention to you under these circumstances—unless the chosen heir were the young gentleman; and that certainly cannot be the case. The situation is likeliest that the Conservatives are stirring to life, and that the aiji has sent his son to keep them at bay—”
That certainly made sense. For other lords to call on Tatiseigi at home while he was hosting the aiji’s son as his guest would be a serious breach of protocol. The aiji-dowager as a guest would bring Conservatives flocking to the doorstep: she was political to the hilt. But the boy, a minor child? Absolutely the opposite.
“But this replacement,” he said.
“—is puzzling,” Banichi said. “We do not think this was on the horizon when the aiji made his plans. We take it to mean that Lord Tatiseigi has, in fact, named a viable candidate for the Ajuri lordship.”
“Is not tradition against his nominating again?”
“Absolutely against it. Therefore we think, granted he has made such a move, that this must be a significant candidate. The Conservatives pressed him hard to make a serious nomination before the upcoming session; and he deliberately chose from the bottom of the Conservatives’ list in absolute confidence that Tabini-aiji would veto it. We surmise he exercised that veto with fair rapidity, in fairness to the person thus named. Now if Lord Tatiseigi has, in fact, broken tradition to name another candidate, something has changed, and by all we can determine, the young gentleman is still with him, while the aiji-dowager is still at the opposite end of the continent—so she is not likely the source of the candidate.”
“Are you sure where she is?” Ilisidi was the one individual who could move Tatiseigi to make a radical change, and she had a habit of being wherever her great-grandchild was. When she was not—it was worrisome.
“We are quite sure. She has not budged from Malguri. She went there deliberately to quiet the Conservatives and keep them away from Lord Tatiseigi, and whatever has happened since, she has not acted.”
The dowager was a conservative power. So was Tatiseigi. But the dowager’s presence in any situation suggested to observers that whatever happened was her idea, and that assumption only complicated a complex maneuver. Tatiseigi’s move did seem to be his own, regarding a Padi Valley situation, in which the dowager was an outsider, an Easterner, whose presence in western politics was problematic. The Conservatives were desperate to restore a vital, traditionally conservative Padi Valley lordship before the next legislative session. With two Padi Valley seats vacant, both Ajuri and Kadagidi, both neighbors to Tatiseigi, with Tatiseigi himself heirless and elderly, and with, in the Conservatives’ view, a very critical legislative session looming, the Conservatives wanted something done about the vacancies. Fast.
There were problems with that haste— ne of which was that there were so few candidates of the traditional bloodlines left alive. Ajuri clan had killed off its eligibles, and all the eligibles in Kadagidi clan were under taint of legal action. The aiji-consort was eligible for Ajuri, but by no means would Tabini have his wife take that post. Damiri’s children were both eligible, but one was Cajeiri, Tabini’s nine-year-old heir, and the other was a babe in arms, so it could not be either of them. It was a potentially lethal honor, if one went strictly on history.
“Who would be eligible?” he asked. “More to the point, who would want it?”
“We have compiled a very short list, but we cannot reconcile any of those with such a change of mind, not from Lord Tatiseigi. Certainly the acting lord would never have Tatiseigi’s approval.”
“Or the aiji’s,” Bren said. The acting lord was Cajeiri’s great-aunt Geidaro, a detestable woman—and possibly complicit in the murder of the last lord, Cajeiri’s grandfather. Oh, wouldn’t solid proof of that misdeed make life easier for everyone?
“The aiji has reinforced the young gentleman’s bodyguard, which we knew he would do soon. We attributed the intent to the young gentleman’s new status as heir. However, in that the aiji has both attached that guard and sent the young gentleman under these circumstances—we are reasonably confident the young gentleman’s presence has political purpose. Now—we ask ourselves whether Tabini-aiji may have asked Tatiseigi to make some specific move, and arranged the dowager’s absence and the heir’s presence in order for him to nominate outside the bloodline.”
That was about as convolute a piece of politics as one could imagine. The conservative dowager was not inclined to step aside on request, and the other One cannot envision the aiji dropping his son this deep into Padi Valley politics.”
“One cannot envision it,” Banichi said. “Which leaves us to imagine that whatever is going on in Lord Tatiseigi’s house was not in the plan, and that something has come up rapidly since the heir’s arrival.”
“What could? Lord Tatiseigi’s health?”
“If he were ill, or if there were any crisis with the young gentleman, no order would prevent the dowager returning.”
“That is certainly true.” He laid his fist on the door frame, gazing out into the gray of the sea and the weather. “One desperately wishes there were word.”
“If we were needed back in Shejidan,” Banichi said, “or at Tirnamardi, the aiji would surely call.”
It did not seem the crisis, if crisis there were, lay in the capital. Not so likely. Tatiseigi’s sprawling flatlands estate of Tirnamardi was strategically poised between the sprawling flatlands of Ajuri, Cajeiri’s mother’s clan; and the vacant Kadagidi manor, which lay just a short drive up the road from Tirnamardi. Currently Ajuri was held by the detestable great-aunt, but at least had a sort of administration; but the Kadagidi, caught in the same misdeed, were in worse state. The Kadagidi manor was under Guild occupation, its lord in utter disgrace and demoted to a factory job in the remote mountains, while Guild administrators and accountants went over the records. Ajuri and Kadagidi had been central to the conspiracy against Tabini—while, between them, Tatiseigi, in his ancient hedge-girt manor, had stood off armed intruders during the Troubles, too powerful and respected a lord for the usurpers to dare take down.
So was Tatiseigi now to give way to a committee of upset political allies?
Not likely. He could sit there until the legislative session began, robbing the Conservatives of yet one more essentially Conservative voice, at which point they would beg him to come back.
It was what made this sudden breach with tradition and Tatiseigi’s own strategy so puzzling.
And the boy traveling by himself? The heir’s appearance in full view of news cameras, in that consideration, made perfect sense—if the aiji wanted to signal his support of Tatiseigi despite the impending veto, and make it very clear to the Conservatives that politics was off the menu while the boy was visiting.
But how did Lord Tatiseigi, having received that guest, now reverse course and nominate another candidate?
They could indeed fly back to the capital, as Banichi suggested. He had come over to Mospheira by boat, a slow way, trying to decompress and get his mind sorted back into Mospheiran politics.
But they could fly out tomorrow morning, spend a few hours in Shejidan getting acquainted with the changing situation on the mainland, and be back on Mospheira again for supper. It would rouse questions, but he could contrive a dozen sensible explanations that didn’t involve the Padi Valley nomination.
“Bren-ji?” Jago quietly joined the two of them at the edge of the balcony. “We have a call from Gin-nandi. She asks to speak to you.”
Gin Kroger. Newly-assigned stationmaster on the human side of Alpha Station. Gin, calling him, and not the President, to whom she was supposed to report.
That wasn’t alarming, but it certainly wasn’t ordinary.
The heavens themselves were not behaving as expected.