By Poul Anderson
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There was Joachim, captain of the Nomad star ship Peregrine, and ruler of the Peregrine clan. There were also all the ship’s officers and crew and their entire families. Bound to no world, the better part of their lives spent on the great ships, the Nomads were something like the gypsies who once roamed the lands of Earth, and something like the Vikings who once fared Earth’s seas - but different from any human society known before. Once a year, the captains of the Nomad ships met at their secret planet called Rendezvous, where the bylaws and intricate agreements of Nomad society were made and enforced. And this year, Peregrine Joachim had a bombshell to toss into the midst of his colleagues. Five Nomad ships had disappeared, vanished completely in an uninhabited area of space. It appeared to be no accident! There was Trevelyan Micah of Earth’s co-ordinating service, the integrating core of galactic civilization, that vast federation of planets. To Micah, the Nomads were an irresponsible, disruptive influence that had to be brought into line. From all over the galaxy, information poured into civilization’s overloaded computers, already years behind in co-ordinating data. But now a directive had been given to Micah: investigate the fact that similar flora and fauna had been found on numerous planets within an area where such life forms could not have arisen by themselves. Then, contact the Nomads who have lost ships in the same area to investigate. There was Sean of the Peregrines, young in years, but old in the bitterness of losing a wife who could not endure Nomad life. And, there on Rendezvous, he met the strange and lovely Ilaloa, who was either not quite human or a little more than human; different humans would draw different opinions. Thus began the quest, part of the answer to which both Trevelyan Micah and Joachim suspected - that unknown, intelligent, heretofore unsuspected life-forms were moving purposefully toward the galaxy, expanding toward human civilization. For the Nomads, there was the fear of being caught between civilization and the unknown aliens; for Earth, there was the fear of repeating all the old blunders in history, leading to needless conflict and destruction. Neither wanted war - either with each other or with the unknown culture they sought to uncover. Here is a tale of a tomorrow distant in time, where the outreach of humanity has only made men realize how vast is space and how small the area of their knowledge and control projects. For although technology had reached undreamed of heights, men and women still loved, hoped, feared and hated even as their ancestors of the twentieth century had.