I recall that it might have been the second book of a series. It takes place in the future - not sure if in our universe - and there are robots who kill for the government (I think).

Story of a group of escapees from a prison that go to a massive ship and start a community.

The prisoners have tattooed faces.

I remember more the characters:

  • A lady that absorbs people and becomes them.
  • A young girl who is a genius but has to be pregnant to be balanced.
  • Two people from the prison they kidnapped and took with them.

Also I remember they terraformed the inside of their ship.

  • I'm reopening this one to use as the duplicate target, since the answer here is better quality.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 11:43

1 Answer 1


That would be Jack Chalker's 'The Rings of the Master' series.

  • They are lead by a (fairly) young Amerind man who goes by 'Hawks.'
  • The young lady is actually a creature (who goes by Vulture) created to be able to mimic DNA and thus bypass their security. ("A being who could beat the system at will. Become anyone it wished. Sail through security ports, passing every test—memory, retinal prints, even blood and tissue samples. Gain the full knowledge of whomever it imitated and therefore have full access to anyplace human beings could go.")
  • The young girl who must be pregnant (and is blind, in fact) is Song China (or the name she adopts, China Nightingale), a genius, who is saddled with that status to achieve some control over her. (She's the daughter of a high official who basically imposed this on her for being disobedient.)
  • The "two people from the prison" could be the Chow sisters (Chow Dai and Chow Mai) who are geniuses in their own right, at least when it comes to bypassing Security systems, if you are referring to the initial prison. They grab/liberate Raven (another Amerind that Hawks knew) and Warlock later, at the prison Melkior, as I recall. In addition, one of the lead scientists, Clayben, comes to join them in book 2.

They are tattooed by a process that is used to basically rebuild people; it can only be done ONCE on almost any being (or, more to the point, on any specific part of a being), so the tattoos are done at skin level, but basically become irreversible.

They all end up stealing a ship; the ship's computer, Star Eagle, becomes part of the team, not to mention developing a very close relationship with China, as she uses a mental interface with the ship to somewhat get past her blindness. They then steal a bigger ship (a Colony ship, basically) from a mothballed fleet, install Star Eagle into it, and go on a quest to retrieve the Rings from various planets where they are held, thence to return and shut off the Master System that is controlling humanity. They do make the inside of the ship into a mimicry of various home environments. Given the volume such a ship is meant to hold, they have all the space they could want.

They also are pursued by Robotic creatures called "Vals" (after Jean Valjean from Les Miserables) that are imprinted with the last recorded memory of the person they are pursuing.

Great books. :)

  • 3
    The shapeshifter is Reba Koll; the pregnant genius is China Nightingale. I grabbed my copy while I was writing my answer, but frankly, yours is better :D
    – andrewsi
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 1:14
  • 1
    Actually, the shape shifter is Vulture; Reba Koll was the last person it had eaten when they met him/her :) To quote the book: "That is not Captain Koll. Koll's dead, been dead almost two years now. That is an inhuman, terrifying monstrosity, a horror. It's the thing that killed Koll and assumed her identity. I should know. I created the damned thing." Thanks, tho -- your comment helped me track down China's & Vulture's details and add them in.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 1:46
  • I admitedly have been scanning the book, but I'm not sure if Vulture uses the name in book 1. I really need to get hold of books 2-4 and give them a re-read...
    – andrewsi
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 1:50
  • 1
    Oh, sure -- vulture pretends to be Reba Koll in book one, as they need her as a Pilot. When Clayben, who created her, shows up to join them, he states what Vulture is and she admits it. "He told you true," she admitted unhesitatingly. "At least about the fact I ain't Koll and that I'm not human and that he's responsible for it. I kinda object to the horror and monstrosity parts, though. I ain't such a bad sort. I only kill at all 'cause he made it so I have to. I got choices, though. I got a conscience. I don't kill none who don't deserve it unless it's them or me. You gotta believe that."
    – K-H-W
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 1:57
  • But Clayben doesn't show up trying to join them until Book two, 'Pirates of the Thunder', so you are right in that sense.. All we know her by in Book One is 'Reba Koll.'
    – K-H-W
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 2:00

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