In a distant future, on an Earth populated by a scant few hundred thousand humans, the Atkins's Thomas performs without question the duties for which he was genetically bred. Called "Soldier" by one and all, he is a man of honor and ability, responsible for keeping the peace, for maintaining the status quo . . . and, most important, for guarding the great Book House on the hill - a vast repository of Last Culture knowledge presided over by Libary, Soldier's mentor, the most senior of the mystic Celibate scholars. Such is Thomas's life in the serene, semi-primitive world without nations and cities and governments - until the night the starship comes home. Having fled a dangerously overcrowded Earth years before the Collapse and the Twilight that followed, for seven centuries the men and women of the space-going vessel Search have been combing the galaxy for inhabitable planets - their aging processes dramatically slowed by the relative magic of light speed travel and cryogenic sleep. And now, lonely and frustrated, the weary voyagers have returned to a homeworld unrecognizably altered by the relentless tides of time - a world that does not want them back. A bitter welcome awaits the Searchers, as old Libary gathers Earth's Ordinands and Elders together to tap the terrifying power of the collective unconscious - in preparation of the Carnival night when they will sweep the helpless intruders back to their lonely sky in the name of Holy Science. And it is Soldier who stands in the middle, silent and alone - bound by duty to evict the homesick star-travelers . . . yet cursed by a preordained genetic destiny that has decreed their eviction will mean Soldier's death.