Most of the men and women who lived in the Hypaethra knew little about real worlds and cared even less. Descended from ancient star travelers, they had evolved an elaborate society based on a rigid hierarchy and complex rituals, and ruled by the will of Volshev, Despot of Gheo. Gheo -- greatest of the huge orbiting habitats that were, in truth, merely the last remnants of a once-flourishing interplanetary civilization.
RIsha Skhorb was different. Raised on the planet Ethri in a diplomatic family of secondary rank, she had made the right connections and come to Gheo, determined to rise to a position of wealth and influence. In this she had already enjoyed some success, having become close friends with Lachis Gloy, for the brilliant and exquisite Lachis was married to Rhamant of Gloy -- the third most important man in the Hypaethra after Volshev and the child Emperor -- and she was quite willing to help the beautiful, intelligent Risha find a husband of suitably high rank.
But then Risha saw Seren of Khryasha, and heedless of conventional considerations for once, she found herself irresistibly drawn by the sheer sensuality and power emanating from the man.
Seren was Rhamant's chief rival, and he had a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty as well as courage. Of lesser status than Gloy, he had nothing to offer Risha in the way of position on Gheo, and yet she could not quite quell her inexplicable desire for him. Not even, to her shame, after he murdered Rhamant.
Such a despicable crime could not go unpunished. It was believed that Seren had fled to Veii, the second planet -- a partially terraformed world controlled by the android Firin ... who didn't want the backward Veiian people harmed by contact with the high-tech justice of the Hypaethra. Only one person would be permitted on-world to track Seren down and kill him. And, compelled by conflicting emotions -- anger, guilt, honor and desire -- Risha volunteered to be Volshev's instrument.
The plan was simple. As Firin prepared her for the mission on the voyage to Veii, teaching her the languages and cultures of that planet, giving her drugs to darken her skin to the native hue, and schooling her in the skill of inducing dreams through dances, so that the people would accept the visions she sent them subliminally as communications from their gods, and her place among them would be established.
But of course it was one thing to plot the execution of a criminal while traveling in space, quite another to find him and carry out the sentence on a completely alien world. For with its months-long days and nights, and its strangely beautiful culture -- a heady mixture of passion, superstition, gentleness and violence -- Risha found Veii to be both terrifying and exhilarating. And she was alone there, unable to fully trust her Firin mentor, burdened with a duty she both longed to fulfill and dreaded.