Read an Excerpt
I have made it work consistently, Gai Chail. I am confident that I can remove c'naatat from any human host, because I can remove it from Dr. Rayat after multiple reinfections. I plan to continue to work on removing it from wess'har, of course.
Da Shapakti, biologist-physician of Surang, in a message to Esganikan Gai, pending her revival in Earth orbit
Shan Frankland rolled over, stomach heaving in disoriented protest, and found herself staring at the curved surface of a marbled planet from space.
She'd been here before, without a suit.
Shit, shit, shit, I've been spaced again, I'm spaced again . . .
Thin watery vomit came to a spattering halt in front of her face as it hit something solid, and she knew she wasn't treading vacuum this time—not drifting in the void, freeze-dried, yet alive and conscious—but on an Eqbas ship with its deck in transparent display mode. It wasn't the most reassuring thing to see when you were struggling to surface from cryosuspension.
"Shit," she said again. "Shit, you said I'd sleep through this."
Her voice came out as a rasping whisper as she inhaled the distinctive scent of an agitated Eqbas. The ship was alive with the noise, and smells of three species—Eqbas crew, ussissi aides, human payload. Then she fell the rest of the way out of the cryo pod, wondering why she wasn't lying in a pool of vomit. The deck was smooth and clean again, and also mercilessly transparent. When she managed to turn her head, she could see Eqbas crew gazing down at the planetbelow like tourists.
Shan was more focused now. "It's Earth. It's Earth, isn't it?"
"Have you been conscious for the whole journey?"
"Enough of it." Shan was on her hands and knees, trying to tell her instincts that she wasn't falling, her body returning rapidly to its normal temperature. C'naatat could do that. "Why didn't you check on me, for Chrissakes? Couldn't you see I wasn't unconscious?"
"We did check." The Eqbas crewman wasn't like a Wess'ej wess'har at all except for his scent. His flat brown face wasn't as striking as the elegant sea-horse head and citrine eyes of his cousins, but he had the same citrus smell when agitated. "You triggered no alarms, chail. Perhaps c'naatat caused this. Perhaps we misjudged the bio-indicators for humans."
How long had it been? Five months? Five months. Five relative months to span twenty-five light-years. If the cryo hadn't put her out completely, then Ade Bennett might also have been trapped in that cold paralyzed limbo, drifting in and out of consciousness and unable to do anything about it, breathing and heartbeat so slow that it felt like death, and maybe Aras had as well. Poor sods. She had to find them and make sure they were okay.
It was just like that, being spaced. Only worse.
C'naatat had altered all three of them enough to make all kinds of unpleasant experiences possible. The parasite had kept her alive in vacuum when she'd stepped out of an airlock to keep it from human exploitation: she couldn't die. She hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of what the damn thing could do when it came to preserving and modifying its host organism, and that still worried the shit out of her. It had already showed her enough of its tricks to convince her it should never fall into the hands of those who would have the most use for it.
And here she was bringing it back to Earth, after she'd tried to kill herself to prevent exactly that.
You're fucking insane. Why didn't you stay on Wess'ej?
Because you've got a job to finish. Because you wanted to bring the gene bank home. Because you think the bloody Eqbas are going to wipe out humans like they culled the isenj on Umeh. Because Ade and Aras are right, and you really are an interfering bitch who thinks she can run the world better.
She couldn't recall ever worrying about humans before, and Earth could have done with a lot less of them. Filthy, shitty things. We are, we really are. Whatever had made her change her mind and come back eluded her now. Maybe this was part of thawing out, and in a while she'd have her old clarity back again. She tried to recall what it had been like to be revived from the mummification of three months in space, and remembered bizarre out-of-body moments when she didn't even know what she was, which one of c'naatat's previous hosts, let alone who.
"I need to see Ade." It was Ade she thought of first, a microsecond before she worried about Aras, and she felt a little guilty about that as if she had betrayed him: but if you had two partners, one had to be first in the queue. She got up and steadied herself against a bulkhead. The structure of the Eqbas vessel was disorientingly translucent in some places but solid and impregnable in others, and it was hard enough to negotiate its shifting layout at the best of times. "Is he conscious yet? What about Aras?"
The Eqbas's two-toned voice had a placatory note, but she was probably imagining that. "Both of them have been revived and made no mention of being conscious during suspension. They've gone to locate the other marines."
Shan stared at the deck but still couldn't see where the vomit had gone. There was nothing. The hull material-liquid to solid, solid to liquid, whatever was required of matter to make a ship that could become a fleet and a squadron of fighters at a moment's notice—appeared to have disposed of it.
"So where's Eddie?"
Eddie Michallat, as permanent a fixture as her c'naatat parasite, was going to be a busy man. He could forget reporting. He had a proper job to do. He could handle all the bloody media wanting to know every cough, spit, and fart about the Eqbas, who had come on a far-from-unanimous invitation to put Earth's environment back together. Eddie would argue all that shit about his neutrality as usual, but he'd play the spokesman in the end. Esganikan Gai, the Eqbas commander, seemed to know how to press his buttons to get him to do what she wanted.Judge. Copyright © by Karen Traviss. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.