Ruby runs waldoes. Freelance. Construction, security - no job too large or small. And her favorite tool is Golem, 600 pounds of vaguely human-shaped, remote-operated power. Not an easy living, but it's better than most in half-sunken, greenhouse-heated, 21st-century New York. Best of all the waldoes go Outside, not Ruby. Ruby hates the Outside. But when a Ruby/Golem tries to rescue a rich Egyptian from a collapsing skyscraper, and accepts the papers he presses into her hands as he dies, Ruby's in trouble.
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In the parched twenty-first century Southwest, Carli D'Auber has made the most important discovery of the century. She has pioneered a new form of communications: It is now possible to send your consciousness across hundreds of thousands of miles, to be present in another country or in another world, through a remote device. But powerful forces have seized control of her invention. A globe-spanning corporation has taken the credit for its discovery.
More than 100 years after a small band of humans stole an antimatter-fueled starship and headed away at near-lightspeed, a colony of those renegades' descendants are now struggling to survive on Brimstone, a barely-habitable world of ice and bitter cold four dozen light-years from Earth. In the long run, they hope to slowly terraform Brimstone, making it, if not Earthlike, at least bearable. In the short run-well, life is hard, and everyone lives in everyone else's laps. Not easy for anyone. Particularly Manda....