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First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2018
Copyright © 1980, 1981 George R.R. Martin.
From Binary Star 5 (Dell, 1981). A shorter version of this story originally appeared in Analog, April 1980, copyright © 1980 by the Condé Nast Publications, Inc.
Illustrations copyright © 2018 by David Palumbo
Cover illustration © David Palumbo 2018
Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2018
George R.R. Martin asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Source ISBN: 9780008296124
Ebook Edition © May 2018 ISBN: 9780008296131
to Gardner Dozois “Manatees!”
About the Author
About the Illustrator
By George R.R. Martin
About the Publisher
WHEN JESUS OF NAZARETH HUNG DYING on his cross, the volcryn passed within a year of his agony, headed outward.
When the Fire Wars raged on Earth, the volcryn sailed near Old Poseidon, where the seas were still unnamed and unfished. By the time the stardrive had transformed the Federated Nations of Earth into the Federal Empire, the volcryn had moved into the fringes of Hrangan space. The Hrangans never knew it. Like us they were children of the small bright worlds that circled their scattered suns, with little interest and less knowledge of the things that moved in the gulfs between.
War flamed for a thousand years and the volcryn passed through it, unknowing and untouched, safe in a place where no fires could ever burn. Afterwards, the Federal Empire was shattered and gone, and the Hrangans vanished in the dark of the Collapse, but it was no darker for the volcryn.
When Kleronomas took his survey ship out from Avalon, the volcryn came within ten light-years of him. Kleronomas found many things, but he did not find the volcryn. Not then and not on his return to Avalon, a lifetime later.
When I was a child of three, Kleronomas was dust, as distant and dead as Jesus of Nazareth, and the volcryn passed close to Daronne. That season all the Crey sensitives grew strange and sat staring at the stars with luminous, flickering eyes.
When I was grown, the volcryn had sailed beyond Tara, past the range of even the Crey, still heading outward.
And now I am old and growing older and the volcryn will soon pierce the Tempter’s Veil where it hangs like a black mist between the stars. And we follow, we follow. Through the dark gulfs where no one goes, through the emptiness, through the silence that goes on and on, my Nightflyer and I give chase.
They made their way slowly down the length of the transparent tube that linked the orbital docks to the waiting starship ahead, pulling themselves hand over hand through weightlessness.
Melantha Jhirl, the only one among them who did not seem clumsy and ill at ease in free fall, paused briefly to look at the dappled globe of Avalon below, a stately vastness in jade and amber. She smiled and moved swiftly down the tube, passing her companions with an easy grace. They had boarded starships before, all of them, but never like this. Most ships docked flush against the station, but the craft that Karoly d’Branin had chartered for his mission was too large, and too singular in design. It loomed ahead; three small eggs side by side, two larger spheres beneath and at right angles, the cylinder of the driveroom between, lengths of tube connecting it all. The ship was white and austere.
Melantha Jhirl was the first one through the airlock. The others straggled up one by one until they had all boarded; five women and four men, each an Academy scholar, their backgrounds as diverse as their fields of study. The frail young telepath, Thale Lasamer, was the last to enter. He glanced about nervously as the others chatted and waited for the entry procedure to be completed. “We’re being watched,” he said.
The outer door was closed behind them, the tube had fallen away; now the inner door slid open. “Welcome to my Nightflyer,” said a mellow voice from within.
But there was no one there.
Melantha Jhirl stepped into the corridor. “Hello,” she said, looking about quizzically. Karoly d’Branin followed her.
“Hello,” the mellow voice replied. It was coming from a communicator grille beneath a darkened viewscreen. “This is Royd Eris, master of the Nightflyer. I’m pleased to see you again, Karoly, and pleased to welcome the rest of you.”
“Where are you?” someone demanded.
“In my quarters, which occupy half of this life-support sphere,” the voice of Royd Eris replied amiably. “The other half is comprised of a lounge-library-kitchen, two sanitary stations, one double cabin, and a rather small single. The rest of you will have to rig sleepwebs in the cargo spheres, I’m afraid. The Nightflyer was designed as a trader, not a passenger vessel. However, I’ve opened all the appropriate passageways and locks, so the holds have air and heat and water. I thought you’d find it more comfortable that way. Your equipment and computer system have