Intrigue and strife aboard Concord Station, centuries after the events of Hammerfall (2001).
Earth, terrified that biological nanoengineering will run amok, keeps a close eye on its Outsider counterparts who are far more willing to continue research. Concord Station orbits a planet on the boundary between human space and that of the alien ondat, who long ago smashed the planet with space rocks to prevent the spread of “nanoceles,” seeds that can drive rapid nanoevolution. Now observers from Earth, Outside, and the ondat watch events on the planet via implanted links to a group made immortal by nanotechnology: Marak Trin Tain, hero of the previous saga, the former Outsiders Ian and Luz, and the Ila, survivor of the Gene Wars. None may leave the planet. But the arrival of an armed Earth ship bearing ambassador Andreas Gide—affiliations, requirements, and authority unknown—disrupts this cozy accommodation. Station governor Setha Reaux wonders whether he can trust Planetary Office chief and Outsider Chairman Antonio Brazis; neither man knows what Kekellen, the ondat observer, wants or knows; down on the planet, the Ila at least knows more than she’s telling. Ambassador Gide, clad in an advanced environmental suit, grills young Procyon Stafford, Marak’s link, revealing that Earth suspects leakage of nanotechnology from the planet. As Procyon leaves, someone shoots the ambassador, breaching his containment; Procyon, badly shaken up, wanders off in a daze: events sparking off a desperate series of maneuvers that could precipitate another war.
A desperately complicated setup that finally explodes into action halfway through. Is it worth it? Well, just about: the plot’s going nowhere, but such is Cherryh’s storytelling skill that you almost don’t notice.