Zahn (Angelmass, 2001, etc.) goes after YA readers with the tale of a space-going orphan and his alien companion. Fourteen-year-old Jack Morgan lives on a small cargo spaceship with Uncle Virge—actually a computer simulation of his now-dead uncle. Jack is on the run from the authorities, accused of stealing cargo he had contracted to deliver for Braxton Universis, a powerful mega-corporation. Proving his innocence is not an attractive option because Uncle Virge was one of the most accomplished burglars and con men in the galaxy—crafts he was training Jack for until his death. Jack’s consequent flight takes him to a supposedly uninhabited world where he sees the arrival of three spaceships, all immediately attacked by unknown fighters. One of the ships crash-lands on the planet, and, at Uncle Virge’s urging, Jack goes to see what he can salvage from it and encounters Draycos, a surviving crewmember. Draycos, a warrior-poet, is a member of a symbiotic race and exists either as a two-dimensional “tattoo” on the skin of his hosts or as a three-dimensional dragon. Since his host was killed in the attack, he persuades Jack to become his new one so that he can live and avenge the attack. This sets the two on a string of adventures culminating in Jack’s accepting an assignment to burgle the safe on a luxury spaceliner. The task makes use both of Jack’s burglar skills and Drayco’s assorted alien talents. As things progress, Jack and Draycos learn to trust each other—and discover that they have enemies in common. The conclusion leaves the door open for a sequel.
A palatable adventure for a young audience, well paced and smoothly narrated.