Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn t care to talk about. One hundred seventy-eight light-years from ZaraCorp s head office on Earth, hundreds of miles from their headquarters on-planet, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp cancels their contract with him. Briefly in the catbird seat, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth. But there s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earthlike planet is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species. Then a small furry biped trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute shows up at Jack s outback home, followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that, despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp s claim to a planet s worth of wealth is flimsy indeed and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the fuzzys before their existence becomes more widely known."