In the twenty-second century, Earth is desperately over-populated and
over-stressed, but technology has eased this somewhat by allowing
humanity to expand into the Solar System, and biofeedback machines
have made people's physical shape a matter of choice and taste.
But now underground experiments have started that may alter forever
the very definition of "human", and which menace the delicate balance
on which Earth's survival depends.
There were problems with the Form Change process. One or two
malfunctions at first: people emerging from the tanks in an
incorrect form or completely unchanged. For three years it had been
getting worse. Now there had been deaths, and on the space farms,
panic was setting in. People were refusing to go into the tanks. Yet
out in the Cloudlands, they needed continuous small form corrections
just to stay effective. As the faults increased, their society was
on an exponential curve to disaster.
In the 22nd century biofeedback techniques have enabled humans the
ultimate expression--the ability to transform the body into any viable
form. What began as an innocent technique to reduce anxiety without
drugs has raised fundamental questions about what it is to be human.
Enter the Humanity Test. For those children who pass the test, life.
For those who do not, the organ banks.
But ... what if the test itself cannot be trusted? Has humanity been
culling its most valuable children?
After worldwide war and economic collapse, a group of mercenary negotiators arose to bring order to chaos. Theirs was the most sophisticated intelligence network in the world, and soon the Traders were in demand all over to work out important deals and negotiate sensitive treaties.
Mikal Asparian owed his life to the Traders, who had rescued him from desert barbarians and trained him as one of their own. But the more missions he completed, the more he began to question just what it meant to be a Trader. He never suspected that his labors might have had a hidden purpose...
The Godspeed Drive. It is the faster than-than-light spaceship drive that made human colonization of the galaxy possible. But it was not invented by humans — it was found in the wreck of an alien ship that drifted into the solar system. No one understood everything about how it worked, but it linked a hundred star systems together, and made even marginal planets like Erin in the Maveen system habitable.
But one day the Godspeed ships stopped coming. Erin and the Forty Worlds around Maveen were cut off from Interstellar commerce, confined to the slow insystem shuttles that were the only spaceships that were left at Muldoon Port.
Jay Hara grew up on isolated Erin, longing for the legendary days when Godspeed ships spanned the galaxy, and a young man's dreams could take him to the stars. So when an old, sick spacer named Paddy Enderton showed Jay some very strange devices and told him that he had found a Godspeed base out in the asteroid belt, Jay was eager to believe, despite the doubts of his uncle Duncan and his friend, Dr. Eileen Xavier. But when Jay's farm was raided, his animals killed and his mother beaten, by men searching for Enderton, he became convinced that there was some truth in Enderton's ravings.
They won financing from the university, and have chartered a ship to take them out to the asteroid belt, in search of a small moving rock marked as Paddy's Fortune in Enderton's navigation device. But the ship is not what they think it is. And the crew and captain have a very different, and deadly, agenda once they find the Godspeed base.