years ago. But even before he ever considered dedicating his life to Institute work — or heard of E Space — Harry had reached one conclusion about metatheology.

For all His power and glory, the Creator must not have been a very sensible person.

At least, not as sensible as a neo-chimpanzee.



It names a locale where three states of matter coincide — two that are fluid, swirling past a third that is adamant as coral.

A kind of froth can form in such a place. Dangerous, deceptive foam, beaten to a head by fate-filled tides. No one enters such a turmoil voluntarily.

But sometimes a force called desperation drives prudent sailors to set course for ripping shoals.

• • •

A slender shape plummets through the outer fringes of a mammoth star. Caterpillar-ribbed, with rows of talon-like protrusions that bite into spacetime, the vessel claws its way urgently against a bitter gale.

Diffuse flames lick the scarred hull of ancient cera-metal, adding new layers to a strange soot coating. Tendrils of plasma fire seek entry, thwarted (so far) by wavering fields.

In time, though, the heat will find its way through.

Midway along the vessel’s girth, a narrow wheel turns, like a wedding band that twists around a nervous finger. Rows of windows pass by as the slim ring rotates. Unlit from within, most of the dim panes only reflect stellar fire.

Then, rolling into view, a single rectangle shines with artificial color.

A pane for viewing in two directions. A universe without, and within.

Contemplating the maelstrom, Sara mused aloud.

“My criminal ancestors took their sneakship through this same inferno on their way to Jijo … covering their tracks under the breath of Great Izmunuti.”

Pondering the forces at work just a handbreadth away, she brushed her fingertips against a crystal surface that kept actinic heat from crossing the narrow gap. One part of her — book-weaned and tutored in mathematics — could grasp the physics of a star whose radius was bigger than her homeworld’s yearly orbit. A red giant, in its turgid final stage, boiling a stew of nuclear-cooked atoms toward black space.

Abstract knowledge was fine. But Sara’s spine also trembled with a superstitious shiver, spawned by her upbringing as a savage sooner on a barbarian world. The Earthship Streaker might be hapless prey — desperately fleeing a titanic hunter many times its size — but this dolphin-crewed vessel still struck Sara as godlike and awesome, carrying more mass than all the wooden dwellings of the Slope. In her wildest dreams, dwelling in a treehouse next to a groaning water mill, she had never imagined that destiny might take her on such a ride, swooping through the fringes of a hellish star.

Especially Izmunuti, whose very name was fearsome. To the Six Races, huddling in secret terror on Jijo, it stood for the downward path. A door that swung just one way, toward exile.

For two thousand years, emigrants had slinked past the giant star to find shelter on Jijo. First the wheeled g’Kek race, frantically evading genocide. Then came traekis — gentle stacks of waxy rings who were fleeing their own tyrannical cousins — followed by qheuens, hoons, urs, and humans, all settling in a narrow realm between the Rimmer Mountains and a surf-stained shore. Each wave of new arrivals abandoned their starships, computers, and other high-tech implements, sending every god-machine down to the sea, tumbling into Jijo’s deep midden of forgetfulness. Breaking with their past, all six clans of former sky lords settled down to rustic lives, renouncing the sky forever.

Until the Civilization of the Five Galaxies finally stumbled on the commonwealth of outcasts.

The day had to come, sooner or later; the Sacred Scrolls had said so. No band of trespassers could stay hidden perpetually. Not in a cosmos that had been cataloged for over a billion years, where planets such as Jijo were routinely declared fallow, set aside for rest and restoration. Still, the sages of the Commons of Jijo had hoped for more time.

Time for the exile races to prepare. To purify themselves. To seek redemption. To forget the galactic terrors that made them outcasts in the first place.

The Scrolls foresaw that august magistrates from the Galactic Migration Institute would alight to judge the descendants of trespassers. But instead, the starcraft that pierced Jijo’s veil this fateful year carried several types of outlaws. First gene raiders, then murderous opportunists, and finally a band of Earthling refugees even more ill- fated than Sara’s hapless ancestors.

I used to dream of riding a starship, she thought, pondering the plasma storm outside. But no fantasy was ever like this — leaving behind my world, my teachers, my father and brothers — fleeing with dolphins through a fiery night, chased by a battleship full of angry Jophur.

Fishlike cousins of humans, pursued through space by egotistical cousins of traeki.

The coincidence beggared Sara’s imagination.

Anglic words broke through her musing, in a voice that Sara always found vexingly sardonic.

“I have finished calculating the hyperspatial tensor, oh, Sage.

“It appears you were right in your earlier estimate. The mysterious beam that emanated from Jijo a while ago did more than cause disruptions in this giant star. It also triggered a state-change in a fossil dimension-nexus that lay dormant just half a mictaar away.”

Sara mentally translated into terms she was used to, from the archaic texts that had schooled her.

Half a mictaar. In flat space, that would come to roughly a twentieth of a light-year.

Very close, indeed.

“So, the beam reactivated an old transfer point.” She nodded. “I knew it.”

“Your foresight would be more impressive if I understood your methods. Humans are noted for making lucky guesses.”

Sara turned away from the fiery spectacle outside. The office they had given her seemed like a palace, roomier than the reception hall in a qheuen rookery, with lavish fixtures she had only seen described in books two centuries out of date. This suite once belonged to a man named Ignacio Metz, an expert in the genetic uplifting of dolphins — killed during one of Streaker’s previous dire encounters — a true scientist, not a primitive with academic pretensions, like Sara.

And yet, here she was — fearful, intimidated … and yet proud in a strange way, to be the first Jijoan in centuries who returned to space.

From the desk console, a twisted blue blob drifted closer — a languid, undulating shape she found as insolent as the voice it emitted.

“Your so-called wolfling mathematics hardly seem up to the task of predicting such profound effects on the continuum. Why not just admit that you had a hunch?”

Sara bit her lip. She would not give the Niss Machine the satisfaction of a hot response.

“Show me the tensor,” she ordered tersely. “And a chart … a graphic … that includes all three gravity wells.”

The billowing holographic creature managed to imply sarcasm with an obedient bow.

“As you wish.”

A cubic display, two meters on a side, lit up before Sara, far more vivid than the flat, unmoving diagrams-on- paper she had grown up with.

A glowing mass roiled in the center, representing Izmunuti, a fireball radiating the color of wrath. Tendrils of

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