Title Page



Part 1: The Offer

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Part 2: The Cheetah and the Tree

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Part 3: The Choice

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26


Tor Books by Karl Schroeder

About the Author



DARKNESS, AND A rope road.

'Champagne?' asked the flight attendant. Antaea Argyre raised her hand to wave him away, then turned the motion into acceptance of the helix glass. It wasn't as if she was on duty, after all. She sipped the tart wine from one end of the glass coil that surface tension held it to, and watched the undulating rope ravel by outside the window.

None of the other passengers were watching. In knots of two or three or five, they preened and posed, drank and laughed at one another's jokes. The gaslights of this passenger ship's lounge lit the space brightly, highlighting the gold filigree around the doorjambs and the deep mazelike patterns in the velvet of the cushioned pillars. Everything held sumptuous color and texture, except the floor-to-ceiling window that took up one entire wall. This was black, like the uniform Antaea wore. She was the only passenger close enough to touch the cold glass; the only

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