Genre: soft science fiction
Tossed on a garbage heap after birth, freighter pilot T.K. Valentine has beaten the odds for "star trash" a million times over. Her secret? She swears she has no soul and concentrates on outrunning a past so toxic that she fears it will eat her alive should she ever remember it. She's
untouchable-- and she likes it that way.
On a routine freighting gig, she runs afoul of the planet Elysia. Her ship is impounded, a move that could bankrupt her.
Desperate to shore up her bleeding finances, she goads her shipmate, Helena, into devising a way to drop her beneath Elysia's "impenetrable" security grid. Val bets images taken of Elysia's forbidden food-growing areas will sell and help rescue her business.
Successfully arrived in Elysia's backcountry, Val loses her communicator in a tremendous storm and breaks her leg. She's rescued by peasants who gape at her Terran features as though they've never seen anything like her.
They imprison her in a root cellar along with a coffin. To her surprise, an Elysian man rolls out of it. He stares at her in open suspicion.
The Man seems to be in as much trouble as Val herself. He's back in the coffin when a friend attempts to get them through a checkpoint. They are detained by guards who bear the swagger of "Tea-Tins," the personal goon squad of City Eterna's Archbishop.
The guide is arrested and Val, disguised in peasant rags, is sent on her way with the coffin. She feels the wall of protection she's built around herself crack. Corrosive memories eke out.
the critical question here is why? What happens here that makes her remember?
An accident sends them tumbling down a ravine. Val rescues The Man from the coffin. When he comprehends she's saved his life, he reveals his name-- Caimun Hahhl. He makes her understand he is taking her to a radio.
Val's a wreck, dragging on a crutch behind the mysterious Hahhl. Peasants at a mourning feast seem to know him. He exploits Val's pocket tech to them and they react as though to a miracle.
He is injured and while attempting to help, Val discovers he bears horrific scars from torture. Hahhl, she realizes, is no petty con man on the lam.
He carries a sketchbook and while peeking inside, Val finds specs for City Eterna's most revered attraction, tthe Water Clock. The death of the Clock's designer made headlines years before. But the designer is not dead. He's alive and he's running for his life in the backcountry.
Long-kept secrets moldering under Elysia's security grid are imaged by Val-- the deaths of young children to an unknown scourge, peasants' wagons looted of goods by Tea-Tins, people with medical problems that should be history on this planet. She witnesses a mass tithing of goods to "angels" who wow the crowd with high-tech trickery and make off with the loot. Hahhl needs Val to get him to her ship-- to blow the whistle on the Archbishop.
At a market, Val unflinchingly kills a cop about to arrest Hahhl. The act precipitates an emotional meltdown for Val as memories gush from inside like blood from an artery, memories she must now live with.
The search for a radio has become a search for the soul Val claims she's never had.
She witnesses the most stunning atrocity-- the "angels" abducting bright children to live in the City.
Hahhl weakens as winter bears down upon them. Val must keep him going.
When they finally find a radio, Val doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. It's at least a hundred years old.
She cobbles it together, and deploys an archaic signal that she prays Helena will see from space-- if she's still looking for Val. Tea-Tins arrest Hahhl just hours before Helena rescues Val.
Val has Hahhl's sketchbook, which contains a journal detailing his rise to fame and his run as a renegade. Her images are sufficient evidence against the Archbishop. But Caimun Hahhl is the star witness. Val returns to Elysia to find him.
Sensitive questions asked in the right places and blackmail see Val dumped in a dungeon fully forbidden by treaty. Her demands to see Caimun Hahhl result in his broken and beaten body being sent to her. Val waits for him to die.
Helena breaks them out and they peel off in a gun-runner, hotly pursued by Elysia's Planetary Guard. They evade capture and hijack a med-ship. The medic refuses to cooperate, even when told who his patient is. The medic summons the pursuers then is astonished that they fire at him. "They want this man dead," Val says, "and they don't care if you're in the way."
It's a flashpoint. The medic does an abrupt about-face and joins Val. They are on a go-for-broke dead run for the one planet in the area that has never signed Elysia's treaty. They are pursued, gaining speed by centimeters as they jettison junk and do some fancy flying-- only to be
torpedoed within airspace of the planet. "I've lost him!" the medic calls and Val collapses with a scream of "Asylum!" as they are boarded.
It's the biggest story in the galaxy, Elysia's ruling Divinity busted for crimes against their own people. Hahhl has barely survived. Val is unable to see him as he is being treated and "debriefed by half the galaxy."
Val is grateful to be back in space-- but is curiously out of sorts back on board her ship. When allowed, she visits Hahhl, intending to finish a horrible chapter in her life. His invitation to her to stay sends her fleeing the planet again.
She returns to Earth to settle the ugly past so recently remembered. Determined to nurture the soul she's found, she goes back to Elysia and turns up on Hahhl's doorstep. She's already beaten the odds for star trash. If a tree can grow roots, well, so can she.
No welcome sign needed, Hahhl opens the door and his arms.
this is about twice as long as it needs to be to cover pivotal events. It doesn’t give us much about character but there’s just enough to make me think nothing is going to surprise me.
This is same old/same old set in space. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t reach out of the screen grab my rhinestone gilded cat’s eye spectacles and demand “read me”.
You can see your competition in the posted synopses. “Nothing wrong” and “not bad” isn’t going to win the game.