Irene Waskiewicz and Ernst Neumann, a team of crack operatives from a shadowy outfit called The Gang which functions across parallel lines of probability, are on an apparently routine mission to the Muslim world of Ka'abah. The harsh and ingenious maintenance of purdah on Ka'abah strikes Irene as terribly akin to the sexual shell-games of her own 20th-century-American youth; she engineers the escape of Zubeydeh, their Ka'abite host's bright young daughter. In consequence she soon learns that the ultimate loyalties of Ernst--her mentor and lover and as fair-minded a man as can be found in the multiple worlds of their experience--are to an essentially male scheme of things in which women sometimes have to be betrayed for their own good. Among the best things in this remarkable book are the account of Irene's unhappy adolescence and the subtle portrayal of the Ka'abite mentality. Russ (Alyx, We Who Are About To) can sometimes he an unfortunate embodiment of her own remark about that operatic marvel, the ""electric-knife-voice that sounds as if it's going to cut its owner's throat."" Here she's as noisy as ever, but to wonderful purpose. Fine science fiction, a challenging sexual polemic, and a wittily, economically constructed novel.