Eric Born knows his way around the universe. He's a quick-thinking merchant blessed with natural telekinetic skill. He's also that rarest of creatures, a human being. Humans have been scattered across the universe, powerless and oppressed, dispersed so widely that no one knows what planet they first came from. Eric survives by selling his talents to the mysterious galactic tyrants known as the Rhudolant Vitae, but has never forgotten he belongs to the human race, and the distant world, the Realm of the Nameless Powers. The Realm may be a backwater, but Eric will do anything to protect his home from the merciless and powerful Vitae.With the help of fellow refugee Arla Rengate, Eric embarks on a journey across the stars. To save the Realm, he will have to cross the Vitae, and discover a secret that holds the key to the origins of mankind...
I can count on Sarah Zettel to entertain me with her renowned witty and fast-paced style and classic themes. She's the award winning cross-genre author of thirty novels that cover the literary spectrum from science fiction and fantasy to Young Adult to Mystery and Romance. Sarah has won critical acclaim and the Philip K. Dick Award for her novel BITTER ANGELS (written as C.L. Anderson). I'm delighted to include RECLAMATION in the Philip K. Dick Award Bundle. This was her debut novel, was a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, and also won Locus Magazine's Best First Novel award. – Lisa Mason
What's it got? faster-than-light travel, artificial intelligence, telekinesis, tough girls, bad guys and big guns.– SFReviews
If I could describe this book in one word, it definitely it would be "extensive." Extensive as a notion, as issues that are presented and also as a contrast between communities and races. The whole concept is a combination of multi-layered thoughts, descriptive differences in the warring races and a fascinating presentation of the nature of warfare.– Review Stream
''If Reclamation is about anything, it is about the question of what's human. Is human a biological definition? Is human a mental definition? That's the Big Concept. What it's really about is a couple of people trying to come to terms with their background and who they are.''http://www.locusmag.com/1998/Issues/01/Zettel.html
Ms. Zettel's confident treatment of her ambitious material shows just how entertaining the "grand tradition of Heinlein and Asimov" can still be in sympathetic hands.– The New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas
"WE'RE IN." COMING THROUGH the cargo bay's intercom, Hellea's tenor voice sounded watery.
Burig let out a sigh that deflated his paunch to half its normal size. The arms on his chair tightened around his midriff to compensate. A split second later, the hum filtering through the sterile deck plates from the third level drive fell silent. Now, theAlliance Runner drifted on nothing but its own momentum and Hellea's calculations.
A series of sharp clicks sounded from across the bay as Ovin opened all the restraint catches on her own chair and shoved its arms out of the way. Burig smiled. Ovin hated being strapped down. Already she was pulling out drawers and raising wire racks up around the thaw-out table, getting them ready for the equipment she would need to hang there if their find went into shock, or worse.
Burig shifted his weight so that the chair leaned him toward the intercom's control board. He touched the VIEW key beside the flat screen set flush against the undecorated, blue tile wall. The familiar pattern of white spheres and gold lines that represented May 16's system filled the too-small square. The Runner showed up as an out-of-proportion red dash floating between them. Burig rapped the image twice with his knuckle for thankfulness.
Ovin glanced curiously at him from between the forest of wires and monitor boxes she was building, but she didn't say anything. The bay's stark, white lights gave her profile a hard edge, despite her snub features. Burig tried to ignore her cool eyes. Instead he touched the CALL key for the bridge.
"Hellea," he said toward the intercom, "how soon can you get me through to Director Dorias?"
"As soon as I set up a priority call for an open line," came the reply. "Want it routed down here?"
"If you would." Burig glanced past Ovin at the capsules. All of them waited dormant and dark in their racks, except the one humming and clicking gently by her elbow. "How far out are we?"
"This rate of drift, and all other things being equal, we'll be putting in at Alliance Station in eight, maybe ten hours."
"Thanks," Burig said without any feeling. He shut the view screen off and swiveled the chair away from the wall. The restraints suddenly felt too tight around his waist. He thumbed the catches so the arms fell open to let him stand up.
"What's the matter?" Ovin bent over the stacks of emergency gear next to the thaw-out table. Everything was switched on now, and at full ready. "Not soon enough for you?"
Burig leaned against the table and watched Ovin run through her checks. She kept her attention focused on the readouts as tightly as if she had a full hold and this was her first run. She had only stowed the loose systems that might be damaged in the event of a rough reentry into the system. Everything else had stayed up and running for the whole trip. Captain Notch had bawled her out about wasting power at the beginning. Ovin had replied that if Notch wanted to risk the cargo, wanted to risk a life, he could drop the ship into a black hole, but he wouldn't do it by intimidating her.
Burig had hidden his smile. Nobody tried to tell Imeran d'or dyn Ovin anything about her specialty more than once. It wasn't worth it.
"I'm just going to be really glad when we can hand her over to somebody else," Burig said. "This is too close to contraband running for me."
"Got a flash for you, Subdirector." Ovin looked down at her charge. "This iscontraband running."
Burig sighed again. From here, he could see through the polymer shell of the active capsule to the woman inside. The ragged patchwork she wore as clothing looked incongruous trapped under the network of tubes and wires that fed her drugs and nutrients and monitored her condition. The translucent blue of the tubes reflected against her clear, brown skin, making long pale streaks that ran perpendicular to the scars on the backs of her hands. A respiration mask covered her mouth and nose, but Burig couldn't see her chest move at all.
"Well," said Burig, not taking his gaze off the still figure, "it's not like she's really Family."
Ovin pursed her thin lips and watched the data on the support screens. Her trained eye picked out the details of heart rhythm, eye movement, respiration, and brain activity. "That's not what we're telling the rest of the Quarter Galaxy."
"Until we know what we've got and why the Rhudolant Vitae are so interested in them, we've got to say something." Burig stared at the screens. Technically, he knew what most of the symbolism stood for, but the jumble of letters, numbers, and colored lines kept flowing into fresh formations before he could make any real sense out of it. "This is not just another batch of cradlers' descendants who've forgotten how to bang the rocks together. I've got an itch in the back of my head about this. This could be the future of the Human Family we're carrying."
"Or its past." Ovin drew her fingers across the polymer right above the woman's cheekbone. "That place is crashing old."
Burig remembered the ragged canyon wall with the deep grooves wind and rain had gouged into the bare, rust red stone.
"Crashing's the word for it …"
The intercom's chime cut off the rest of his sentence. Burig rounded the thaw-out table and perched on the edge of the chair just as the screen lit up again. This time, it showed the image of Director Dorias Waesc. Burig had never met him in the flesh, but whenever he saw the Director on screen he thought of Dorias as "the Medium Man." Dorias had a medium build, medium brown skin and hair, a face suggesting medium age, and a sense of humor that was moderately acute.
"Good to see you, Subdirector Burig," said Dorias. "How'd things work out?"
"Lu and Jay came through for us, Director," Burig said with more enthusiasm than he felt. "We got what we went after."
"How's he doing?" Dorias's image leaned closer to the screen as he tried to see across the room.
"She"—Burig slid the visual unit out of the wall and swiveled it around so Dorias could have a better view—"is knocked out in a life-support capsule."
Dorias frowned. "Was that necessary?"
Burig shrugged. "It was how we got her from Jay. I thought it'd be easier to leave her in there until we got someplace that might require a little less explanation than an intersystem ship."
Dorias did not look convinced. "She is a volunteer, isn't she?"
"That's what Jay says." Burig tried to read what was going on behind the Director's eyes. "Is there a problem?"
"No," said Dorias. Burig was pretty sure he was lying. "You're what, five hours out, six?"
Burig shook his head. "Eight to ten."
Dorias rolled his eyes. "All right. I've had a request from Madame Chairman to keep you on the line until you get in-system, so I hope you and your relief are feeling talkative."
Bung looked across at Ovin. Her mouth tightened until it was nothing but a thin, straight line.
"Expecting something to go wrong?" Ovin called toward the screen.
"Always," said Dorias. "It's part of my job."
Like anybody on May 16 is going to be able to do anything about it, thought Burig.
Dorias must have read his mind or the set of his jaw. "And if anything does go wrong, maybe we can't help, but we'll need to know about it as soon as it happens. We don't want to risk losing an emergency burst to interception."
"By the Vitae?" Burig asked.
"Who else?" said Dorias calmly.
Burig mouthed "told you," toward Ovin. The entire project had been padded with excessive caution from the beginning. The Runner had been registered as an independent cargo ship. Except for Ovin and Burig, it was crewed with contract fliers from half a dozen disparate systems, none of which called themselves Family. May 16 had been watching Vitae movements nonstop from the moment they left dock. All normal. There hadn't been even a twitch in the Runner's direction. Despite that, Burig couldn't bring himself to believe they were home and clear yet.
"So," said Dorias, settling back, "what did you think of the Realm?"
"The Realm?" Bung's eyebrows rose.
"MG49 sub 1," said Dorias. "Its people call it the Realm of the Nameless Powers. Didn't Jay give you a history lesson?"
"That's Cor's job," Burig reminded him. "She was out playing native. We didn't get to hang about to say hello." He rubbed the back of his neck as he realized how harsh his words sounded. "We didn't stay grounded very long. That place … it's not exactly easy to get off of, you know. Especially with the number of eyes and ears the Vitae've got in orbit. Has there been any …"
The shrilling of the ship's alarm cut through his sentence. Reflex jerked Burig's head up.
"Blood …" he croaked out the syllable just as the world shuddered.
Burig's shoulder slammed painfully into the wall. He gripped the edge of the seat reflexively to keep from being thrown to the floor. Ovin dropped herself into her security seat, fastening the belts down and locking the struts into place so she'd stay within arm's reach of the capsule.
The ship jerked back and forth for a bad moment before the regulators kicked in again. The racks jingled and rattled and three of them collapsed. A dozen different alarms sounded and the ship's voice came from every direction. Hull breach, hold evacuation, engine shutdown. Burig's head spun.
What in the God's name's happened! We hit an asteroid? What …
"You're being boarded!" shouted Dorias.
"How'd you know?" Burig punched up the view from the hull cameras. Over the back of the ship's pitted hull hung a black, unmarked cylinder with its nose buried in the Runner's side.
Ovin's eyes went round. "Who …"
"It's the Vitae." Dorias's voice cut across the visual.
The screen blurred and cut to black.
"Couldn't see where they're coming in …" Burig hit the CALL key to the bridge, and hit it again.
"Tai is on her way," reported Dorias's voice from the intercom. "Going to intercept them at the airlock … blood, blood, blood … They're cutting in through the cooling tanks!"
Burig's gaze jumped to the wall in front of him. How like the Vitae, he thought ridiculously. Go straight in. No fussing around with airlocks where someone might be able to slow you down …
"Suit!" shouted Ovin a split second before the breach alarm blared inside the bay.
Burig made it to his feet. The outside image flickered back into place on the intercom. All he could do was stare at the unmarked ship with its nose stuck into theRunner's flank. A thin, silver ribbon of coolant rippled into the vacuum, dispersing in a flurry of sparkling crystal.
Two points of pressure slammed against his back, knocking some wind out of his lungs, and sending him stumbling toward the cargo bay door. "Suit, Burig!" bawled Ovin.
Reflexes honed by years of drills let him yank the locker open and start shoving himself into the pressure suit, despite the trembling that threatened to overwhelm him. Ovin twisted her helmet sharply, left then right, to lock it into place. Her fingers, blunted by the white gloves, stabbed Burig in the collarbone and rib cage, closing down his seals for him just as Tai, in her own suit, shoved open the hatch.
"Ditch the find!" Tai yelled into her transmitter loud enough to make Burig wince. "And get outta here!"
"No!" Ovin shouted back.
"We can't let the Vitae have it!"
"No." Ovin's steady voice carried more weight than Tai's shout ever could have. "No one's committing murder in my bay!"
The ship's voice droned on, calmly reporting the hull breach, the tank breach, the coolant drop.
Burig's jaw clenched. The Runner was already dead. He was probably already dead in his tracks. The realization broke a fresh sweat on his brow. The only thing left to do was to keep the Vitae from getting their hands on what the Family had found.
She's not really Family, he told himself firmly as he pushed past Ovin. Ovin shouted something, but Tai grabbed her shoulders and dragged her toward the airlock. Burig stretched his hand toward the main power feed for the support capsule.
Behind him, metal screamed and shattered. Burig's feet flew out from under him, propelled by the rush of freed air. The deck smashed against his back, splashing a wave of coolant across his faceplate.
Burig rolled onto his knees and tried to scrabble to his feet. Above him, a human figure in a red pressure suit climbed out of the flood of coolant gushing through the tear in the hull. The alarms shrieked. Ovin and Tai shouted. Burig couldn't even stand. Two more suited humans waded out of the broken tank.
The invader lifted a half-meter-long stick from its belt. A twin bore down on Ovin and Tai. The first bent toward Burig. Burig swung his arm. The invader blocked it almost casually and knelt on his chest. The stick had a razor-edged blade on the end. Burig could see it clearly as it flashed down toward his throat.
Burig gagged on nothing at all. His lungs burned and his arms flailed randomly, splashing coolant across his faceplate. The invader stood up. Burig clutched at his helmet lock. His hands dropped away and a grey haze swam in front of his eyes. There was nothing to breathe and no strength in his arms and the God knew where Ovin was and all he could do was watch while the invaders typed the release code for the support capsule and waited for the rack to retract its hold on their find.
How did they know about her? Burig thought. How in the name of the God did they know …
With his eyes wide-open, Burig died.