its engorged corona waved like Medusan hair, reaching beyond the limits of any normal solar system. But those lacy filaments were fast being drowned under a new disturbance. During the last few miduras, something had stirred the star to an abnormal fit of rage. Abrupt cyclonic storms began throwing up gouts of dense plasma, tornadolike funnels, rushing far into space.

And we’re going to pass through some of the worst of it, she thought.

How strange that all this violent upheaval might have originated in a boulder of psi-active stone, back home on primitive Jijo. Yet she felt sure it all was triggered somehow by the Holy Egg.

Already half-immersed in this commotion, a green pinpoint was depicted plunging toward Izmunuti at frantic speed, aimed at a glancing near-passage, its hyperbolic orbit marked by a line that bent sharply around the giant star. In one direction, that slim trace led all the way back to Jijo, where Streaker’s escape attempt had begun two exhausting days earlier, breaking for liberty amid a crowd of ancient derelicts — ocean-bottom junk piles reactivated for one last, glorious, screaming run through space.

One by one, those decoys had failed, or dropped out, or were snared by the enemy’s clever capture-boxes, until only Streaker remained, plummeting for the brief shelter of stormy Izmunuti.

As for the forward direction … Instrument readings sent by the bridge crew helped the Niss Machine calculate their likely heading. Apparently, Gillian Baskin had ordered a course change, taking advantage of a gravitational slingshot around the star to fling Streaker toward galactic north and east.

Sara swallowed hard. The destination had originally been her idea. But as time passed, she grew less certain.

“The new t-point doesn’t look very stable,” she commented, following the ship’s planned trajectory to the top left corner of the holo unit, where a tight mesh of curling lines funneled through an empty-looking zone of interstellar space.

Reacting to her close regard, the display monitor enhanced that section. Rows of glowing symbols described the local hyperspatial matrix.

She had predicted this wonder — the reawakening of something old. Something marvelous. For a brief while, it had seemed like just the miracle they needed. A gift from the Holy Egg. An escape route from a terrible trap.

But on examining the analytical profiles, Sara concluded that the cosmos was not being all that helpful after all.

“There are connection tubes opening up to other spacetime locales. But they seem rather … scanty.”

“Well, what can you expect from a nexus that is only a few hours old? One that was only recently yanked from slumber by a force neither of us can grasp?”

After a pause, the Niss unit continued. “Most of the transfer threads leading away from this nexus are still on the order of a Planck width. Some promising routes do seem to be coalescing, and may be safely traversable by starship in a matter of weeks. Of course, that will be of little use to us.”

Sara nodded. The pursuing Jophur battleship would hardly give Streaker that much time. Already the mighty Polkjhy had abandoned its string of captured decoys in order to focus all its attention on the real Streaker, keeping the Earthship bathed in long-range scanning rays.

“Then what does Gillian Baskin hope to accomplish by heading toward a useless …”

She blinked, as realization lurched within her rib cage.

“Oh. I see.”

Sara stepped back, and the display resumed its normal scale. Two meters away, at the opposite corner, neat curves showed the spatial patterns of another transfer point. The familiar, reliably predictable one that every sneakship had used to reach Izmunuti during the last two millennia. The only quick way in or out of this entire region of Galaxy Four.

But not always. Once, when Jijo had been a center of commerce and civilization under the mighty Buyur, traffic used to flux through two hyperdimensional nexi. One of them shut down when Jijo went fallow, half a million years ago, coincidentally soon after the Buyur departed.

Sara and her mentor, Sage Purofsky, had nursed a suspicion. That shutdown was no accident.

“Then we concur,” said the Niss Machine. “Gillian Baskin clearly intends to lead the Jophur into a suicidal trap.”

Sara looked elsewhere in the big display, seeking the enemy. She found it several stellar radii behind Izmunuti, a yellow glow representing the hunter — a Jophur dreadnought whose crew coveted the Earthship and its secrets. Having abandoned the distraction of all the old dross ship decoys, the Polkjhy had been racing toward the regular t-point, confident of cutting off Streaker’s sole escape route.

Only now, the sudden reopening of another gateway must have flummoxed the giant sap-rings who commanded the great warship. The yellow trace turned sharply, as the Polkjhy frantically shed momentum, aiming to chase Streaker past Izmunuti’s flames toward the new door in spacetime.

A door that’s not ready for use, Sara thought. Surely the Jophur must also have instruments capable of reading probability flows. They must realize how dangerous it would be to plunge into a newborn transfer point.

Yet, could the Polkjhy commanders afford to dismiss it? Streaker was small, maneuverable, and had dolphin pilots, reputed to be among the best in all five galaxies.

And the Earthlings were desperate.

The Jophur have to assume we know something about this transfer point that they do not. From their point of view, it seems as if we called it into existence with a wave of our hands — or fins. If we plunge inside, it must be because we know a tube or thread we can latch on to and follow to safety.

They’re obliged to give chase, or risk losing Streaker forever.

Sara nodded.

“Gillian and the dolphins … they’re sacrificing themselves, for Jijo.”

The tightly meshed Niss hologram appeared to shrug in agreement.

“It does seem the best choice out of a wretched set of options.

“Suppose we turn and fight? The only likely outcomes are capture or death, with your Jijoan civilization lost in the bargain. After extracting Streaker’s secrets, the Jophur will report to their home clan, then take their time organizing a systematic program for Jijo, first annihilating every g’Kek, then turning the planet into their own private breeding colony, developing new types of humans, traekis, and boons to suit their perverted needs.

“By forcing the Polkjhy to follow us into the new transfer point, Dr. Baskin makes it likely that no report will ever reach the Five Galaxies about your Six Races. Your fellow exiles may continue wallowing in sublime, planet- bound squalor for a while longer, chasing vague notions of redemption down the muddy generations.”

How very much like the Niss it was, turning a noble gesture into an excuse for insult. Sara shook her head. Gillian’s plan was both grand and poignant.

It also meant Sara’s own hours were numbered.

“What a waste,” the Niss sighed. “This vessel and crew appear to have made the discovery of the age, and now it may be lost.”

Things had been so hectic since the rushed departure from Jijo that Sara was still unclear about the cause of all this ferment — what the Streaker crew had done to provoke such ire and pursuit by some of the great powers of the known universe.

“It began when Captain Creideiki took this ship poking through a seemingly unlikely place, looking for relics or anomalies that had been missed by the Great Library,” the artificial intelligence explained. “It was a shallow globular cluster, lacking planets or singularities. Creideiki never told his reasons for choosing such a spot. But his hunch paid off when Streaker came upon a great fleet of derelict ships, drifting in splendid silence through open space. Samples and holos taken of this mystery armada seemed to hint at possible answers to our civilization’s most ancient mystery.

“Of course our findings should have been shared openly by the institutes of the Civilization of Five Galaxies, in the name of all oxygen-breathing life. Immense credit would have come to your frail, impoverished Earthclan, as well as my Tymbrimi makers. But every other race and alliance might have shared as well, gaining new insight into the origins of our billion-year-old culture.

“Alas, several mighty coalitions interpreted Streaker’s initial beamcast as fulfillment of dire prophecy. They felt the news presaged a fateful time of commotion and upheaval, in which a decisive advantage would go to anyone monopolizing our discovery. Instead of celebratory welcome, Streaker returned from the Shallow Cluster to

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