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Introduction by John Meaney
PS Publishing, 2006

In an alternate history dominated by Imperial China, the forces of the Dragon Throne control most of the Earth, and now turn their attentions to the heavens. In the tradition of its great fifteenth century admiral, Zheng He, the Chinese Empire constructs a massive Treasure Fleet. But unlike the dragon boats which coursed across terrestrial seas, the ships of this new armada are ceramic and steel, fuelled by nuclear reactors and spun against tethered counterweights to provide a semblance of gravity for their crews. Rather than sailing to open new trade routes to foreign shores, this new fleet sails interplanetary gulfs, to the red planet fourth from the sun, in search of mineral wealth and territorial claims.

The least of the ships of the Treasure Fleet is Night Shining White, one of many water tenders. It will be the last to reach the red planet, and the first to return, its hold emptied of precious water and filled with mineral samples and ores to be milled and studied back on Earth. The ship's captain, a eunuch who has sacrificed much in the service of his emperor, has never ventured beyond the bounds of Earth before, much less in command of a ship and her crew.

Before it reaches its destination, Night Shining White's reactor coolant system fails, and the crew is faced with the prospect of a quick death by runaway nuclear meltdown, or a slow painful demise by radiation poisoning. Their only hope of salvation is the captain, but will his inexperience only ensure their demise?

 

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