It has been over two centuries since the starship *Phoenix* disappeared into space, leaving an isolated colony of humans to fend for themselves on the world of the alien *atevi*. Two centuries during which humanity fought a devastating war with these volatile aliens, nearly facing planetary extinction before devising an interface which allowed these two so-different sentient races to coexist in peace.
Since that time, humans have lived in exile on the island of Mospheira, using a single diplomat, the *paidhi*, to trade bits of advanced technology for the continued peace and safety of their 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 the Mospheiran humans never could – access to the stars.
But the captains of the *Phoenix* do not offer this incalculable treasure for free. In return they ask for *atevi* manpower and supplies to rebuild their long-derelict space station and refuel and rearm their aging starship.
Guided by technological designs provided by *Phoenix*’s Pilots’ Guild, the *atevi* now have three functioning space shuttles, and teams of *atevi* engineers labor in orbit to renovate the space Station and build a new starship – one designed to *atevi* specifications.
But these monumental advances have not come easily to the tradition-bound *atevi*, for they not only add a dangerously powerful third party to an already fragile diplomatic situation, but rouse pro- and anti-space factions in *atevi* society to near-incendiary levels. To help negotiate these treacherous diplomatic waters, Tabini-aiji, the powerful head of the *atevi*’s Western Association, has sent the only human he fully trusts into space: his own *paidhi*, Bren Cameron.
A brilliant and wily negotiator, Cameron has severed his alliance with Mospheira, the land of his birth, and now exclusively represents Tabini’s interests in space. Far surpassing the accomplishments of his predecessors, Bren is the first human who has been truly accepted into *atevi* society. Privy to the most intimate decisions of Tabini’s household, Bren is acutely aware of how dangerous, yet how easy it is for a human to assume familiar emotions and drives where only alien motivations exist.
Bren, now residing on the station, is empowered to use any means at his disposal to achieve the aiji’s aim – the representation of *atevi* interests – but his job is not easy. For Cameron cannot be completely sure that either human faction is telling him the truth. And the threat of possible invasion by the hostile aliens who destroyed *Phoenix*’s Station in a far-off sector of space hangs over them all.
But when, with his dying breath, one of the senior captains of the *Phoenix* admits to treachery against his own crew, it threatens to rip apart every enterprise in space. For when *Phoenix* fled that alien attack, the crew had been told that there were no human survivors – that they left a deserted and ruined station behind. But that was not true. The station was only partly destroyed, and there were survivors – friends and family of the *Phoenix*’s crew-who may or may not still be alive.
How can Bren hope to mediate on the aiji’s behalf on a station overcome by a mutinous rebellion which threatens to take the *Phoenix* and all its crew on a mission back into hostile alien territory?