Once, long ago, the computer of the starship Basilica had governed the planet Harmony for forty million years. Now it watched over a much smaller population, and with far fewer powers to intervene. But the planet that it tended to was Earth, the ancient home of the human race.

It was the starship Basilica that brought a group of humans home again, only to find that in the absence of humanity- two new species had reached the lofty pinnacle of intelligence. Now the three peoples shared a vast massif of high mountains, lush valleys, and a climate that varied more with elevation than with latitude.

The diggers called themselves the earth people, making tunnels through the soil and into the trunks of trees they hollowed out. The angels were the sky people, building roofed nests in trees and hanging upside down from limbs to sleep, to argue, and to teach. The humans were the middle people now, living in houses above the ground.

There was no digger city without human houses on the ground above it, no angel village without the walled chambers of the middle people providing artificial caves. The vast knowledge that the humans brought with them from the planet Harmony was only a fraction of what their ancestors had known on Earth before their exile forty million years before. Now even that was mostly lost; yet what remained was so far superior to what the people of the earth and sky had known that wherever the middle people dwelt, they had great power, and usually ruled.

In the sky, however, the computer of the starship Basilica forgot nothing, and through satellites it had deployed around the Earth it watched, it collected data and remembered everything it learned.

Nor was it alone in its watching. For inside it lived a woman who had come to Earth with the first colonists; but then, clothed in the cloak of the starmaster, she returned into the sky, to sleep long years and waken briefly, her body healed and helped by the cloak, so that death, if it could ever come to her at all, was still a far distant visitor. She remembered everything that mattered to her, remembered people who had once lived and now were gone. Birth and life and death, she had seen so much of it that she barely noticed it now. It was all generations to her, seasons in her garden, trees and grass and people rising and falling, rising and falling.

On Earth there was a little bit of memory as well. Two books, written on thin sheets of metal, had been maintained since the return of the humans. One was in the hands of the king of the Nafari, passed down from king to king. The other, less copious, had been passed to the brother of the first king, and from him to his sons, who were not kings, not even famous men, until at last, unable now even to read the ancient script, the last of that line gave the smaller metal book into the hands of the man who was king in his day. Only in the pages of those books was there a memory that lasted, unchanged, from year to year.

At the heart of the books, in the depths of the ship's records, and warm in the soul of the woman, the greatest of the memories was this: that the human beings had been brought back to Earth, called by an entity they did not understand, the one who was called the Keeper of Earth. The Keeper's voice was not clear, nor was the Keeper understandable as the ship's computer was, back in the days when it was called the Oversoul and people worshipped it as a god. Instead the Keeper spoke through dreams, and, while many received the dreams and many believed that they had meaning, only a few knew who it was that sent them, or what it was the Keeper wanted from the people of Earth.

Chapter 1


Akma was born in a rich man's house. He remembered little from that time. One memory was of his father, Akmaro, carrying him up a high tower, and then handing him to another man there, who dangled him over the parapet until he screamed in fear. The man who held him laughed until Father reached out and took Akma from him and held him close. Later Mother told Akma that the man who tormented him on the tower was the king in the land of Nafai,