Chindi (Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins Series #3)

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Overview

The universe has been explored--and humanity has all but given up on finding other intelligent life. Then an alien satellite orbiting a distant star sends out an unreadable signal. Is it the final programmed gasp of an ancient, long-dead race? Or the first greeting of an undiscovered life form?

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Overview

The universe has been explored--and humanity has all but given up on finding other intelligent life. Then an alien satellite orbiting a distant star sends out an unreadable signal. Is it the final programmed gasp of an ancient, long-dead race? Or the first greeting of an undiscovered life form?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Chindi is Jack McDevitt's third novel -- after The Engines of God and Deepsix -- to feature Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins, veteran starship pilot and one of the most credible heroines in contemporary SF. Both she and McDevitt are at the top of their respective forms in this big, lovingly detailed new novel of interstellar suspense.

Accompanied by an anthropomorphic AI and a crew of enthusiastic amateurs, Hutch discovers an alien satellite that is part of an intricate network of receivers and transmitters spanning an incalculable distance and leading to a series of inhabited -- or formerly inhabited -- worlds. Eventually, the searchers discover the Retreat, a small moon containing a treasure trove of alien artifacts. But this discovery only leads to a larger one: a massive interstellar vessel they dub "the Chindi," i.e., the "spirit of the night." As Hutch and her companions slowly uncover the Chindi's secrets, McDevitt's narrative achieves an impressive degree of visionary and conceptual grandeur.

McDevitt's virtues are on full display in Chindi: the clean, clear style, the easy humor, the sympathetic portraits of believable people under relentless pressure. McDevitt has written some of the most entertaining, thoroughly imagined SF adventures of recent years, and Chindi -- with its potent, wide-eyed evocation of cosmic mysteries -- is one of his most absorbing creations. Bill Sheehan

Locus
McDevitt [is]... a writer of hard, humane science fiction thrillers, and Chindi is one of his very best.
Publishers Weekly
In this sequel to last year's well-received Deepsix, McDevitt tells a curiously old-fashioned tale of interstellar adventure. Reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, the story sends veteran space pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins and a crew of rich, amateur SETI enthusiasts off on a star-hopping jaunt in search of the mysterious aliens who have placed a series of "stealthed" satellites around an unknown number of planets. After visiting several worlds, and losing two of her dilettantes to a murderous group of alien angels, Hutch follows the interstellar trail to a bizarre, obviously artificial planetary system. There, two spectacular gas giants orbit each other closely, partially sharing the same atmosphere, while a large moon circles them in a theoretically impossible circumpolar orbit. The explorers soon discover a number of puzzling alien artifacts, including a gigantic spaceship that fails to respond to their signals. First contact is McDevitt's favorite theme, and he's also good at creating large and rather spectacular astronomical phenomena. Where this novel falls short, however, is in the creation of characters. Hutch, beautiful and supremely competent, is an adequate hero, but virtually everyone else is a cartoon. The book abounds in foolhardy dilettantes, glory-hogging bureaucrats and capable space pilots. Oddly, in a novel set some 200 years in the future, McDevitt's cast is almost exclusively white and Anglo-Saxon. This is a serviceable enough space opera, but it operates far from the genre's cutting edge. (July 2) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On her final active mission for the Academy, spaceship pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchinson ferries a group of wealthy UFO hobbyists to the site of a mysterious signal from distant space. After discovering only dead planets and unexpected danger, Hutch and her crew of amateurs finally encounter a vehicle that seems to promise a long-awaited first contact. The author of Deepsix relates the further adventures of a resourceful and determined woman who places her duty to those under her care before her personal ambitions. First-rate sf adventure and smooth, well-plotted storytelling make this a superior choice for sf collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another adventure for Academy space pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins (Deepsix, 2001, etc.). When a ship detects a brief but apparently modulated transmission from an unknown source near a neutron star, the aliens-or-bust members of the Contact Society summon a state-of-the-art spaceship and declare their determination to track the transmission to its source. The Academy selects Hutch, veteran of several archaeological expeditions to distant stars, to pilot them. At the neutron star, they confirm the transmissions, but find no aliens: instead, three "stealthed" satellites transmit information to a destination in another star system. Soon, other satellites are found orbiting stars that the unknown builders consider of interest-including Earth. A close friend of Hutch's takes one of the satellites aboard his ship for study and analysis; soon thereafter the ship explodes. Coincidence? Following the transmissions, Hutch and party-including dilettante leader George Hockelmann, soft-porn actress Alyx Ballinger, and artist Tor Kirby, one of Hutch's old flames-discover a planet whose civilization was destroyed by nuclear war; and, still farther afield, a bizarre and beautiful system where, on a moon orbiting a pair of ringed gas giant planets, they find a house complete with artifacts, books, and a burial plot. More important yet, a colossal alien spaceship's busy refueling nearby. Naturally, Hutch's bold but foolhardy explorers demand to investigate. Slow to start, and the tepid, tentative romance doesn't help; happily, the puzzles wrapped in explanations within mysteries and cliffhanging resolution are well up to McDevitt's previous high standards.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780441009381
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/2/2002
  • Series: Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins Series , #3
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack McDevitt is a former naval officer, taxi driver, customs officer and motivational trainer. He is a multiple Nebula Award finalist who lives in Georgia with his wife Maureen.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

June 2224

People tend to believe that good fortune consists of equal parts talent, hard work, and sheer luck. It's hard to deny the roles of the latter two. As to talent, I would only say it consists primarily in finding the right moment to step in. --Haroun al Monides , REFLECTIONS, 2116

PRISCILLA HUTCHINS WAS not a woman to be swept easily off her feet, but she came very close to developing a terminal passion for Preacher Brawley during the Proteus fiasco. Not because of his good looks, though God knew he was a charmer. And not because of his congeniality. She'd always liked him, for both those reasons. If pressed, though, she would probably have told you it had to do with his timing.

He wasn't really a preacher, of course, but was, according to legend, descended from a long line of Baptist fire breathers. Hutch knew him as an occasional dinner companion, a person she saw occasionally coming in or going out of the Academy. And perhaps most significantly, as a voice from the void on those interminable flights to Serenity and Glory Point and Faraway. He was one of those rare individuals with whom one could be silent, and still feel in good company.

The important thing was that he had been there when she desperately needed him. Not to save her life, mind you. She was never in real danger herself. But he took a terrible decision out of her hands.

The way it happened was this: Hutch was aboard the Academy ship Wildside en route to Renaissance Station, which orbited Proteus, a vast hydrogen cloud that had been contracting for millions of years and would eventually become a star. Its core was burning furiously under the pressuresgenerated by that contraction, but nuclear ignition had not yet taken place. That was why the station was there. To watch, as Lawrence Dimenna liked to say, the process. But there were those who felt Renaissance was vulnerable, that the process was unpredictable, and who'd attempted to close it down and withdraw its personnel. It was not a place Hutch was anxious to visit.

The wind blew all the time inside the cloud. She was about a day away, listening to it howl and claw at her ship. She was trying to concentrate on a light breakfast of toast and fruit when she saw the first sign of what was to come. " It's thrown off a big flare, " said Bill. "Gigantic," he added. "Off the scale."

Unlike his sibling AI on the Benjamin Martin , Hutch's Bill adopted a wide range of appearances, using whatever he felt most likely to please, annoy, or intimidate, as the mood struck him. Theoretically, he was programmed to do so, to provide the captain with a true companion on long flights. She was otherwise alone on the ship.

At the moment, he looked like the uncle that everybody likes but who has a tendency to drink a bit too much and who has an all-too-obvious eye for women.

"You think we're actually going to have to do an evacuation?" she asked.

" I don't have sufficient data to make a decent estimate, " he said. " But I'd think not. I mean, the place has been here a long time. Surely it won't blow up just as we arrive. "

It was an epitaph if she'd ever heard one.

They couldn't see the eruption without sensors, of course. Couldn't see anything without sensors. The glowing mist through which the Wildside moved prevented any visuals much beyond thirty kilometers.

It was hydrogen, illuminated by the fire at the core. On her screens, Proteus was not easily distinguishable from a true star, save for the twin jets that rose out of its poles.

Hutch looked at the display images, at the vast bursts of flame roiling through the clouds, at the inferno rendered somehow more disquieting than that of a true star, perhaps because it had not even the illusion of a definable edge, but rather seemed to fill the universe.

When seen from outside the cloud, the jets formed an elegant vision that would have been worthy of a Sorbanne, beams composed of charged particles, not entirely stable, flashed from a cosmic lighthouse that occasionally changed its position on the rocks. Renaissance Station had been placed in an equatorial orbit to lessen the possibility that a stray blast would take out its electronics.

"When do they expect the nuclear engine to cut in?" she asked.

" Probably not for another thousand years, " said Bill.

"These people must be crazy, sitting out here in this soup."

" Apparently conditions have worsened considerably during the past forty-eight hours. " Bill gazed down at her in his smugly superior mode and produced a noteboard. " It says here they have a comfortable arrangement. Pools, tennis courts, parks. Even a seaside retreat. "

Had Proteus been at the heart of the solar system, the thin haze of its outer extremities would have engulfed Venus. Well, maybe engulfed wasn't quite the right word. Enshrouded, maybe. Eventually, when the pressure reached critical mass, nuclear ignition would occur, the outer veil of hydrogen would be blown away, and Proteus would become a class-G, possibly a bit more massive than the sun.

"Doesn't really matter how many parks they have if that thing has gone unstable."

The AI let her see that he disapproved. " There is no known case of a class-G protostar going unstable. It is subject to occasional storms, and that is what we are seeing now. I think you are unduly worried. "

"Maybe. But if this is normal weather, I wouldn't want to be here when things get rough."

" Nor would I. But if a problem develops while we're there, we should be able to outrun it easily enough."

Let's hope.

It was unlikely, the dispatching officer had assured her, that an Event would occur. (He had clearly capitalized the word.) Proteus was just going through a hiccup period. Happens all the time. No reason to worry, Hutchins. You're there simply as a safety factor.

She'd been at Serenity, getting refitted, when the call had come. Lawrence Dimenna, the director of Renaissance Station, the same Dimenna who'd insisted just two months ago that Proteus was perfectly safe, as dependable as the sun, who'd argued to keep the place going against the advice of some of the top people at the Academy, was now asking for insurance. So let's send old Hutchins over to sit on the volcano.

And here she was. With instructions to stand by and hold Dimenna's hand and if there's a problem, see that everyone gets off. But there shouldn't be a problem. I mean, they're the experts on protostars and they say everything's fine. Just taking a precaution.

She'd checked the roster. There were thirty-three crew, staff, and working researchers, including three graduate students.

Accommodations on the Wildside would be a bit tight if they had to run. The ship was designed for thirty-one plus the pilot, but they could double up in a couple of the compartments and there were extra couches around that could be pressed into service during acceleration and jump phases.

It was a temporary assignment, until the Academy could get the Lochran out from Earth. The Lochran was being overhauled--armored, really--to better withstand conditions here and would replace her as the permanent escape vessel within a few weeks.

" Hutch, " said Bill. " We have incoming. From Renaissance. "

She was on the bridge, which was where she spent most of her time when riding an otherwise empty ship. "Patch them through," she said. "About time we got acquainted."

It was a pleasant surprise. She found herself looking at a gorgeous young technician with chestnut hair, luminous eyes, and a smile that lit up when there'd been time for the signal to pass back and forth and he got a look at her. He wore a white form-fitting shirt and Hutch had to smother a sigh. Damn. She'd been alone too long.

" Hello, Wildside , " he said, "welcome to Proteus. "

"Hello, Renaissance." She restrained a smile. The exchange of signals required slightly more than a minute.

" Dr. Harper wants to talk to you. " He gave way to a tall, dark woman who looked accustomed to giving people directions. Hutch recognized Mary Harper from the media reports. She owned a clipped voice and looked at Hutch the way Hutch might have glanced at a kid bringing the lunch in late. Harper had stood shoulder to shoulder with Dimenna during the long battle to prevent the closing of the station.

" Captain Hutchins? We're glad you're here. It'll make everyone feel a bit more secure to know there's a ship standing by. Just in case. "

"Glad to be of service," Hutch said.

She softened a bit. " I understand you were headed home before this came up, and I just wanted you to know that we appreciate your coming out here on short notice. There's probably no need, but we thought it best to be cautious. "

"Of course."

Harper started to say something else but the transmission was blown away by the storm. Bill tried a few alternate channels and found one that worked. " When can we expect you? " she asked.

"Tomorrow morning at about six looks good."

Harper was worried, but she tried to hide it behind that cool smile while she waited for Hutch's response to reach her. When it did she nodded, and Hutch got the distinct impression that back behind her eyes the woman was counting. " Good, " she said with bureaucratic cheerfulness. " We'll see you then. "

We don't get many visitors out this way, Hutch thought.

THE STATION MADE periodic reports to Serenity, recording temperature readings at various levels of the atmosphere, gravity fluctuations, contraction rate estimates, cloud density, and a myriad other details.

The Wildside had drifted into the hypercomm data stream between Renaissance and Serenity and was consequently able, for a few minutes, to pick up the transmissions. Hutch watched the numbers rippling across a half dozen screens, mixed with occasional analysis by the Renaissance AI. None of it was intelligible to her. Core temperatures and wind velocities were just weather reports. But there were occasional images of the protostar, embedded at the heart of the cloud.

"How sure are they," she asked Bill, "that ignition won't happen for a thousand years?"

" They're not giving opinions at the moment, " he said. " But as I understand it, there's a possibility the nuclear engine could already have started. In fact, it could have started as much as two hundred years ago. "

"And they wouldn't know it?"

" No. "

"I'd assumed when that happened the protostar would more or less explode."

" What would happen is that over a period of several centuries after its birth, the star would shrink, its color would change to yellow or white, and it would get considerably smaller. It's not a process that just goes boom. "

"Well, that's good to know. So these people aren't really sitting on top of a powder keg."

Bill's uncle image smiled. He was wearing a yellow shirt, open at the neck, navy blue slacks, and slippers. " Not that kind of powder keg, any"

They passed out of the data stream and the signal vanished.

Hutch was bored. It had been six days since she'd left Serenity, and she ached for human company. She rarely rode without passengers, didn't like it, and found herself reassuring Bill, who always knew when she was getting like this, that he shouldn't take it personally. "It's not that you aren't an adequate companion," she said.

His image blinked off, to be replaced by the Wildside logo, an eagle soaring past a full moon. " I know. " He sounded hurt. " I understand. "

It was an act, meant to help. But she sighed and looked out into the mist. She heard the gentle click by which he routinely signaled his departure. Usually it was simply a concession to her privacy. This time it was something else.

She tried reading for an hour, watched an old comedy (listening to the recorded audience laughter and applause echo through the ship), made herself a drink, went back to the gym, worked out, showered, and returned to the bridge.

She asked Bill to come back, and they played a couple of games of chess.

" Do you know anyone at Renaissance? " he asked.

"Not that I'm aware of." A few of the names on the roster were vaguely familiar, probably passengers on other flights. They were astrophysicists, for the most part. A few mathematicians. A couple of data technicians. Some maintenance people. A chef. She wondered which was the young man with the luminous eyes.

They live pretty well, she thought.

A chef. A physician.

A teacher.

A--

She stopped. A teacher ?

"Bill, what possible use would they have for a teacher?"

"I don't know, Hutch. It does seem strange."

A chill worked its way down her spine. "Get Renaissance on the circuit."

A minute later, the technician with the eyes reappeared. He turned the charm on again, but this time she wasn't having any. "You have a Monte DiGrazio at the station. He's listed as a teacher. Would you tell me what he teaches?"

He was gazing wistfully at her while he waited for her transmission to arrive.

" What are you thinking? " asked Bill. He was seated in a leather armchair in a book-lined study. In the background she could hear a fire crackling.

She started to answer but let it trail off.

The technician heard her question and looked puzzled. " He teaches math and science. Why do you care? "

Hutch grumbled at her stupidity. Ask the question right, dummy . "Do you have dependents on board? How many people are there altogether?"

" I think you may be right, " said Bill, cautiously.

She folded her arms and squeezed down as if to make herself a smaller target.

The technician was looking at her with crinkled eyebrows. " Yes. We have twenty-three dependents. Fifty-six people in all. Monte has fifteen students. "

"Thank you," said Hutch. " Wildside out."

Bill's innocuously content features hardSo if an evacuation does become necessary-- "

"We'd have to leave almost half of them behind." Hutch shook her head. "That's good planning."

" Hutch, what do we do? "

Damned if she knew. "Bill, get me a channel to Serenity."

--From Chindi by Jack McDevitt (c) July 2002, Ace Books, used by permission.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter 1
June 2224


People tend to believe that good fortune consists of equal parts talent, hard work, and sheer luck. It's hard to deny the roles of the latter two. As to talent, I would only say it consists primarily in finding the right moment to step in.
--Haroun al Monides, REFLECTIONS, 2116

PRISCILLA HUTCHINS WAS not a woman to be swept easily off her feet, but she came very close to developing a terminal passion for Preacher Brawley during the Proteus fiasco. Not because of his good looks, though God knew he was a charmer. And not because of his congeniality. She'd always liked him, for both those reasons. If pressed, though, she would probably have told you it had to do with his timing.

He wasn't really a preacher, of course, but was, according to legend, descended from a long line of Baptist fire breathers. Hutch knew him as an occasional dinner companion, a person she saw occasionally coming in or going out of the Academy. And perhaps most significantly, as a voice from the void on those interminable flights to Serenity and Glory Point and Faraway. He was one of those rare individuals with whom one could be silent, and still feel in good company.

The important thing was that he had been there when she desperately needed him. Not to save her life, mind you. She was never in real danger herself. But he took a terrible decision out of her hands.

The way it happened was this: Hutch was aboard the Academy ship Wildside en route to Renaissance Station, which orbited Proteus, a vast hydrogen cloud that had been contracting for millions of years and would eventually become a star. Its core was burning furiously under thepressures generated by that contraction, but nuclear ignition had not yet taken place. That was why the station was there. To watch, as Lawrence Dimenna liked to say, the process. But there were those who felt Renaissance was vulnerable, that the process was unpredictable, and who'd attempted to close it down and withdraw its personnel. It was not a place Hutch was anxious to visit.

The wind blew all the time inside the cloud. She was about a day away, listening to it howl and claw at her ship. She was trying to concentrate on a light breakfast of toast and fruit when she saw the first sign of what was to come.It's thrown off a big flare," said Bill. "Gigantic," he added. "Off the scale."

Unlike his sibling AI on the Benjamin Martin , Hutch's Bill adopted a wide range of appearances, using whatever he felt most likely to please, annoy, or intimidate, as the mood struck him. Theoretically, he was programmed to do so, to provide the captain with a true companion on long flights. She was otherwise alone on the ship.

At the moment, he looked like the uncle that everybody likes but who has a tendency to drink a bit too much and who has an all-too-obvious eye for women.

"You think we're actually going to have to do an evacuation?" she asked.

"I don't have sufficient data to make a decent estimate," he said. "But I'd think not. I mean, the place has been here a long time. Surely it won't blow up just as we arrive."

It was an epitaph if she'd ever heard one.

They couldn't see the eruption without sensors, of course. Couldn't see anything without sensors. The glowing mist through which the Wildside moved prevented any visuals much beyond thirty kilometers.

It was hydrogen, illuminated by the fire at the core. On her screens, Proteus was not easily distinguishable from a true star, save for the twin jets that rose out of its poles.

Hutch looked at the display images, at the vast bursts of flame roiling through the clouds, at the inferno rendered somehow more disquieting than that of a true star, perhaps because it had not even the illusion of a definable edge, but rather seemed to fill the universe.

When seen from outside the cloud, the jets formed an elegant vision that would have been worthy of a Sorbanne, beams composed of charged particles, not entirely stable, flashed from a cosmic lighthouse that occasionally changed its position on the rocks. Renaissance Station had been placed in an equatorial orbit to lessen the possibility that a stray blast would take out its electronics.

"When do they expect the nuclear engine to cut in?" she asked.

"Probably not for another thousand years," said Bill.

"These people must be crazy, sitting out here in this soup."

"Apparently conditions have worsened considerably during the past forty-eight hours. "Bill gazed down at her in his smugly superior mode and produced a noteboard."It says here they have a comfortable arrangement. Pools, tennis courts, parks. Even a seaside retreat."

Had Proteus been at the heart of the solar system, the thin haze of its outer extremities would have engulfed Venus. Well, maybe engulfed wasn't quite the right word. Enshrouded, maybe. Eventually, when the pressure reached critical mass, nuclear ignition would occur, the outer veil of hydrogen would be blown away, and Proteus would become a class-G, possibly a bit more massive than the sun.

"Doesn't really matter how many parks they have if that thing has gone unstable."

The AI let her see that he disapproved."There is no known case of a class-G protostar going unstable. It is subject to occasional storms, and that is what we are seeing now. I think you are unduly worried."

"Maybe. But if this is normal weather, I wouldn't want to be here when things get rough."

"Nor would I. But if a problem develops while we're there, we should be able to outrun it easily enough."

Let's hope.

It was unlikely, the dispatching officer had assured her, that an Event would occur. (He had clearly capitalized the word.) Proteus was just going through a hiccup period. Happens all the time. No reason to worry, Hutchins. You're there simply as a safety factor.

She'd been at Serenity, getting refitted, when the call had come. Lawrence Dimenna, the director of Renaissance Station, the same Dimenna who'd insisted just two months ago that Proteus was perfectly safe, as dependable as the sun, who'd argued to keep the place going against the advice of some of the top people at the Academy, was now asking for insurance. So let's send old Hutchins over to sit on the volcano.

And here she was. With instructions to stand by and hold Dimenna's hand and if there's a problem, see that everyone gets off. But there shouldn't be a problem. I mean, they're the experts on protostars and they say everything's fine. Just taking a precaution.

She'd checked the roster. There were thirty-three crew, staff, and working researchers, including three graduate students.

Accommodations on the Wildside would be a bit tight if they had to run. The ship was designed for thirty-one plus the pilot, but they could double up in a couple of the compartments and there were extra couches around that could be pressed into service during acceleration and jump phases.

It was a temporary assignment, until the Academy could get the Lochran out from Earth. The Lochran was being overhauled--armored, really--to better withstand conditions here and would replace her as the permanent escape vessel within a few weeks.

"Hutch,"said Bill."We have incoming. From Renaissance."

She was on the bridge, which was where she spent most of her time when riding an otherwise empty ship."Patch them through,"she said."About time we got acquainted."

It was a pleasant surprise. She found herself looking at a gorgeous young technician with chestnut hair, luminous eyes, and a smile that lit up when there'd been time for the signal to pass back and forth and he got a look at her. He wore a white form-fitting shirt and Hutch had to smother a sigh. Damn. She'd been alone too long.

"Hello, Wildside," he said, "welcome to Proteus."

"Hello, Renaissance." She restrained a smile. The exchange of signals required slightly more than a minute.

"Dr. Harper wants to talk to you."He gave way to a tall, dark woman who looked accustomed to giving people directions. Hutch recognized Mary Harper from the media reports. She owned a clipped voice and looked at Hutch the way Hutch might have glanced at a kid bringing the lunch in late. Harper had stood shoulder to shoulder with Dimenna during the long battle to prevent the closing of the station.

"Captain Hutchins? We're glad you're here. It'll make everyone feel a bit more secure to know there's a ship standing by. Just in case."

"Glad to be of service," Hutch said.

She softened a bit. "I understand you were headed home before this came up, and I just wanted you to know that we appreciate your coming out here on short notice. There's probably no need, but we thought it best to be cautious."

"Of course."

Harper started to say something else but the transmission was blown away by the storm. Bill tried a few alternate channels and found one that worked. "When can we expect you?" she asked.

"Tomorrow morning at about six looks good."

Harper was worried, but she tried to hide it behind that cool smile while she waited for Hutch's response to reach her. When it did she nodded, and Hutch got the distinct impression that back behind her eyes the woman was counting. "Good," she said with bureaucratic cheerfulness. "We'll see you then."

We don't get many visitors out this way, Hutch thought.

THE STATION MADE periodic reports to Serenity, recording temperature readings at various levels of the atmosphere, gravity fluctuations, contraction rate estimates, cloud density, and a myriad other details.

The Wildside had drifted into the hypercomm data stream between Renaissance and Serenity and was consequently able, for a few minutes, to pick up the transmissions. Hutch watched the numbers rippling across a half dozen screens, mixed with occasional analysis by the Renaissance AI. None of it was intelligible to her. Core temperatures and wind velocities were just weather reports. But there were occasional images of the protostar, embedded at the heart of the cloud.

"How sure are they," she asked Bill, "that ignition won't happen for a thousand years?"

"They're not giving opinions at the moment," he said. "But as I understand it, there's a possibility the nuclear engine could already have started. In fact, it could have started as much as two hundred years ago."

"And they wouldn't know it?"

"No."

"I'd assumed when that happened the protostar would more or less explode."

"What would happen is that over a period of several centuries after its birth, the star would shrink, its color would change to yellow or white, and it would get considerably smaller. It's not a process that just goes boom."

"Well, that's good to know. So these people aren't really sitting on top of a powder keg."

Bill's uncle image smiled. He was wearing a yellow shirt, open at the neck, navy blue slacks, and slippers. "Not that kind of powder keg, any"

They passed out of the data stream and the signal vanished.

Hutch was bored. It had been six days since she'd left Serenity, and she ached for human company. She rarely rode without passengers, didn't like it, and found herself reassuring Bill, who always knew when she was getting like this, that he shouldn't take it personally. "It's not that you aren't an adequate companion," she said.

His image blinked off, to be replaced by the Wildside logo, an eagle soaring past a full moon. "I know." He sounded hurt. "I understand."

It was an act, meant to help. But she sighed and looked out into the mist. She heard the gentle click by which he routinely signaled his departure. Usually it was simply a concession to her privacy. This time it was something else.

She tried reading for an hour, watched an old comedy (listening to the recorded audience laughter and applause echo through the ship), made herself a drink, went back to the gym, worked out, showered, and returned to the bridge.

She asked Bill to come back, and they played a couple of games of chess.

"Do you know anyone at Renaissance?" he asked.

"Not that I'm aware of." A few of the names on the roster were vaguely familiar, probably passengers on other flights. They were astrophysicists, for the most part. A few mathematicians. A couple of data technicians. Some maintenance people. A chef. She wondered which was the young man with the luminous eyes.

They live pretty well, she thought.

A chef. A physician.

A teacher.

A--

She stopped. A teacher?

"Bill, what possible use would they have for a teacher?"

"I don't know, Hutch. It does seem strange."

A chill worked its way down her spine. "Get Renaissance on the circuit."

A minute later, the technician with the eyes reappeared. He turned the charm on again, but this time she wasn't having any. "You have a Monte DiGrazio at the station. He's listed as a teacher. Would you tell me what he teaches?"

He was gazing wistfully at her while he waited for her transmission to arrive.

"What are you thinking?" asked Bill. He was seated in a leather armchair in a book-lined study. In the background she could hear a fire crackling.

She started to answer but let it trail off.

The technician heard her question and looked puzzled. "He teaches math and science. Why do you care?"

Hutch grumbled at her stupidity. Ask the question right, dummy. "Do you have dependents on board? How many people are there altogether?"

"I think you may be right," said Bill, cautiously.

She folded her arms and squeezed down as if to make herself a smaller target.

The technician was looking at her with crinkled eyebrows. "Yes. We have twenty-three dependents. Fifty-six people in all. Monte has fifteen students."

"Thank you," said Hutch. "Wildside out."

Bill's innocuously content features hardSo if an evacuation does become necessary--"

"We'd have to leave almost half of them behind. "Hutch shook her head. "That's good planning."

"Hutch, what do we do?"

Damned if she knew. "Bill, get me a channel to Serenity."

THE ERUPTIONS COMING from Proteus were growing more intense. Hutch watched one that appeared to stretch millions of kilometers, boiling out beyond the edge of the star cloud before running out of steam.

"All set to Serenity," said Bill.

She checked the operations roster and saw that Sara Smith would be on duty when the transmission arrived, in two and a half hours. Sara was an aggressive, ambitious type, on her way up to management. Not easy to get along with, but Sara would understand the problem and take it seriously. It was Sara's boss, Clay Barber, who'd assigned Hutch to the mission and instructed her to take the suddenly inadequate Wildside.

She composed herself. Blowing up would be unprofessional.

The green lamp over the console imager blinked on. "Sara," she said, gazing steadily into the lens but keeping her voice level, "I'm supposed to be able to evacuate Renaissance if there's a problem. But apparently somebody forgot they have dependents. Wildside doesn't have space for everybody. Not close.

"Please advise Clay. We need a bigger ship tout de suite. I don't know whether this place is going to blow or not, but if it does, as things now stand, we are going to have to leave twenty or so people."

"That was good, Hutch," said Bill. "I thought you struck exactly the right note."

SHE SKIPPED DINNER. She felt washed out, worried, tired, uncomfortable. Frightened. What was she supposed to say to Harper and Dimenna when she arrived at Renaissance? Hope there's no problem, folks. Whom did you want to save?

It did nothing for her somber mood when a warning lamp began to flash. A couple of the stations went down, several screens switched off. The lights went dim, the fans died, and for a few moments the bridge was very quiet. Then everything came back. "It's under control," said Bill.

"Okay."

"Conditions like these, we can expect that occasionally."Ship's systems occasionally shut down to protect themselves from external power surges.

"I know."

"And we have a response from Serenity."

"On-screen."

It was Barber. Overweight, balding, low irritability level, didn't like being disturbed when things went wrong. In a rare expansive mood he'd once told her that he'd become a starship pilot to impress a woman. That it hadn't mattered and that she'd walked out anyhow. Hutch understood why.

He was in his office."Hutch,"he said,"I'm sorry about the problem. The Wildside was the biggest ship we had available. They've been sitting out there for years. Surely they'll be all right for a few more weeks. I understand the Lochran is ahead of schedule. We've got a couple people here who've spent time at Renaissance, and they tell me the place always looks scary to people going out there for the first time. It's because you're running through all those gases. Can't see very far.

"What I'd like you to do is just try to play things by ear when you get to Renaissance. Don't mention that the Wildside is under capacity. They won't know if you don't bring it up. I'd send a second ship, but that seems a bit like overkill. Just tough it out.

"I'll check on the Lochran situation, alert them that we're uncomfortable with the present arrangement. Maybe I can hurry them along."He ran a hand through his thinning hair and looked squarely out of the screen at her. "Meantime I need you to just get us through. Okay? I know you can handle it."

Serenity Station's ring of stars replaced the solemn features.

"That's it?" she said. "That's all he's got to say?"

"His attitude might be different if he were here looking out the window."

"You goddam know it would be."

He paused and frowned, distracted by someMore incoming, "he said."From Renaissance."

Hutch felt her stomach lurch.

This time it was the station director himself. Lawrence Dimenna, A.F.D., G.B.Y., two-time winner of the Brantstatler Award. He was handsome in an austere and distant sort of way. Like many accomplished centenarians, he looked relatively young, yet his eyes radiated the inflexibility and certainty that comes with age. She detected no amiability in the man. His hair was blond, his jaw set, and he was not happy. Nevertheless he managed a smile. "Captain Hutchins, I'm glad you got here promptly."

He was seated at a desk. Several plaques were arranged on the bulkhead behind him, positioned to reveal they were there. She wasn't close enough to make out details unless she increased magnification, an action that would have been perceived as less than polite. But one carried the United Kingdom coat of arms. Knight of the Realm, perhaps?

He gathered himself, studied the broad expanse of his desk, then brought his eyes up to look into hers. He looked frightened. "We've had an eruption," he said. He used the sort of monotone that suggests the speaker is keeping his head amid serious trouble. "Proteus has thrown off a major flare."

Her heart picked up.

"I told them this could happen. There should have been a ship on-station and ready to go."

My God. Was he saying what she thought he was saying?

"I've given the order to evacuate. When you get here tomorrow, we'll have a couple of technicians standing by to refuel you--." He paused. "I assume that'll be necessary."

"Certainly advisable," she said, speaking out of a haze. "If we have time."

"Okay, we'll take care of it. I don't suppose you can do anything to speed things up?"

"You mean get there more quickly? No. We're locked into our present flight plan."

"I understand. Well, it's all right. We don't expect the flare to arrive until about 0930."

She let a few seconds pass. "Are we talking total loss of the station?"

The return transmission took several minutes. "Yes," he said, stumbling a bit. He was having trouble maintaining his composure. "We see little possibility that Renaissance can survive. Well, let me be honest. This time tomorrow, the station will have been blown" His head sank forward, and he seemed to be looking up at her. "Thank God you're here, Captain. At least we'll get our people out. If you arrive on schedule, we think we can have your ship fueled and be on our way three hours before it arrives. Should be plenty of time.

"We'll have everyone ready to go. If you need anything else, let the ops officer know, or myself, and we'll see that you get it." He got up, and the imager followed him as he came around the desk. "Thanks, Captain. I don't know what we'd have done if you hadn't gotten here when you did."

The reply lamp flashed. He was finished. Did she have anything to say?

The engines were silent, and the only sound in the ship was the electronic burble of the instruments on the bridge and the steady hum of the air ducts. She wanted to tell him, to blurt out the truth, let him know there wasn't room for everybody. Get it over with.

But she didn't. She needed time to think. "Thank you, Professor," she said. "I'll see you in the morning."

Then he was gone and she was left staring desolately at the blank screen.

"What are you going to do, Hutch?" Bill asked.

She had to struggle to keep the rage out of her voice. "I don't know," she said.

"Possibly we should start by notifying Barber. Hutch, this isn't your fault. Nobody can blame you."

"Maybe you haven't noticed, Bill, but I'm the front woman out here. I'm the person who gets to tell Dimenna that the flare's a bigger problem than he realizes." God, when I get back I'm going to throttle Barber. "We need help. Who else is in the neighborhood?"

"The Kobi is headed to Serenity for refitting." The Kobi was a contact vessel, funded by the Alien Research Council. It was out looking for somebody to talk to. In more than forty years, it had found nobody. But it did perform a service, training ship captains and other interested persons in how to behave if they actually happened to stumble across aliens. Hutch had been through the course: Make no threatening moves. Blink lights "in an inviting manner." Record everything. Transmit alert to nearest station. Don't give away strategic information, like the location of the home world. If fired on, depart hastily. The Kobi 's skipper was Chappel Reese, finicky, nervous, easily startled. The last person in the world you'd want out saying hello to the civilization down the road. But he was a fanatic on the subject, and he had relatives in high places.

"What's the Kobi 's capacity?"

"It's a yacht. Maximum is eight. Ten in an emergency. "Bill shook his head."He's got a full load on this flight."

"Who else?"

"The Condor is not far."

Preacher Brawley's ship. That brought a surge of hope."Where is he?"

Brawley was already a near-legendary figure. He'd saved a science mission that had miscalculated its orbit and was getting sucked down into a neutron star, he'd brought back the disease--ridden survivors of the Antares II effort without regard to his own safety, and he'd rescued a crew member on Beta Pac by using a wrench to club one of that world's voracious reptiles to death.

Bill looked pleased."Within range. If he's on schedule, the Condor could be here tonight. If he makes a good jump, he could be in by early morning."

"He has room?"

"Only a handful of passengers. Plenty of space. But we should contact him without delay. There is no one else close enough to help."

Star travel was as much art as science. Ships did not return to sublight space with precision. One could materialize quite far from a projected destination, and the degree of uncertainty tended to increase with the range of the jump. The risk normally lay in the possibility of materializing inside a target body. In this case, even materializing inside the cloud constituted a major hazard. Thin as it was, it nevertheless possessed enough density to explode an arriving ship. That meant Preach would have to follow her own procedure, make his jump well outside the envelope, then make a run for the station. On the way back out, he'd be racing the flare until he got enough acceleration to jump back into hyperspace.

He had reckless red hair and blue eyes that seemed lit from within. He was not extraordinarily handsome, in the classic sense, but there was an easygoing sails-to-the-wind attitude about the man and a willingness to laugh at himself that utterly charmed her. A year or so earlier, when they'd found themselves together at Serenity, he'd made her feel that she was the center of the world. Hutch wasn't inclined to give herself to men on short acquaintance, but she'd have been willing to make an exception for Brawley. Somehow, though, the evening had gotten diverted, and she'd thought better of casting a lure. Next time, she'd decided.

There had been no next time.

Bill was still talking about the Condor . The ship was engaged in biological research. Brawley has been collecting samples on Goldwood, and was returning them to Bioscan's central laboratory at Serenity. Goldwood was one of the worlds on which life had not progressed past the single-cell stage.

"Let's talk to them,"she said.

Lamps blinked on."Channel is open, Hutch. If the Condor is running on schedule, transmission time one way is one hour seventeen minutes. I will also relay through Serenity in the event he's off-course."Because if he was, the directed hypercomm signal would not find him.

Despite the seriousness of her situation, Hutch felt flustered. Schoolgirl flustered. Dumb. Mentally she hitched up her socks, steadied her voice, and peered at the round black lens of the imager."Preach,"she said,"I've got--"The lights blinked again and went out. This time they did not come back. When Bill tried to talk to her his voice sounded like a recording at reduced power. The pictures dropped off the displays, and the fan shut down, stuttered, and started up again.

Bill tried unsuccessfully to deliver an epithet.

The emergency lights came on.

"What was that?"she asked."What happened?"

He needed about a minute to gather his voice, made several false starts, and tried again."It was an EMP,"he said. An electromagnetic pulse.

"How much damage?"

"It fused everything on the hull."

Sensors. Transmitters and dishes. Hypercomm. Optics.

"Are you sure? Bill, we need to contact the Condor . Tell them what's happening."

"It's all down, Hutch."

She gazed out at the streaming mist.

"Don't even think about it,"said Bill.

"What alternative do we have?"

"You'll get cooked."Radiation levels were, um, astronomical.

Unless she went outside and replaced the transmitter, there was no hope of alerting Preach.

"Too much wind out there at this velocity, even if you want to get yourself well- done, Hutch. Keep in mind, something happens to you, nobody gets rescued."

"You could manage it."

"At the moment, I'm blind. I couldn't even find the station. Renaissance will notify Serenity what's happening and Barber can figure the rest out for himself."

"They'll be down, too. The same EMP--"

"They're equipped for this environment. They've got heavy-duty suits. They can send somebody out without killing him."

"Yeah."She wasn't thinking clearly. Good. She didn't want to go anyway.

"After we get to the station you can make all the repairs you want. If you still have a mind."

"It'll be too late by then to round up Preach."

Bill's fireplace went silent."I know."

THEY WERE NAVIGATING on dead reckoning. Course and speed had been laid in hours ago, predicated on exact knowledge. All that was required was to avoid gliding past the station without seeing it. But visibility was getting worse, and would probably be down to a couple of klicks by morning, when they arrived. It should be enough, but God help them if they missed the target.

"Bill, what happens if we put them all in the Wildside ?"

"Everybody? Fifty-six people? Fiftyseven counting you. How many adults? How many children? How old are they?"

"Say forty adults. What happens?"

His image appeared to have grown older."We'd be okay for the first few hours. Then it'd start to get a little close. We'd be aware of a growing sense of stale air. After about thirteen hours, conditions would begin to deteriorate seriously."

"How long before people started sustaining damage?"

"I don't have enough information."

"Guess."

"I don't like to guess. Not on something like this."

"Do it anyway."

"At about fifteen hours. Once it begins, things will go downhill quickly."His eyes found hers."You can do it, pick up the extra people, if Dimenna was smart enough to let Serenity know what's happening here, and if Serenity contacted the Condor , and if the Condor could find us soon enough to take the extra people off."

THE LIGHTS CAME back, along with full power.

During the course of the evening she wandered restlessly through the ship, read, watched sims, and carried on a long, rambling conversation with Bill. The AI pointed out that she'd eaten nothing since lunch. But she had no appetite.

Later that evening, he appeared on the bridge in a VR mode, seated on her right hand. He was wearing an elaborate purple jumpsuit with green trim. A Wildside patch adorned his breast pocket. Bill prided himself on the range and ingenuity implicit in the design of his uniforms. The patches always bore his name but otherwise changed with each appearance. This one carried a silhouette of the ship crossing a galactic swirl."Are you going to try to take every"

She'd been putting off the decision. Wait till she got to Renaissance. Then explain it to Dimenna.

Not enough air for everybody, Professor.

Not my fault. I didn't know.

She sat entertaining murderous thoughts about Barber. Bill suggested she take a trank, but she had to be sure she was fully functional in the morning."I don't know yet, Bill,"she said.

The interior lights dimmed as it grew late. The observation panels also darkened, creating the illusion that night had arrived outside. Gradually the mist faded until she could see only an occasional reflection of the cabin lights outside.

Usually she was quite comfortable in the Wildside , but tonight the vessel felt empty, gloomy, silent. There were echoes in the ship, and she listened to air currents and the murmur of the electronics. She sat down in front of her display every few minutes and checked the Wildside's position.

Meantime, Preacher was getting farther away.

She could send a hypercomm after him as soon as she reached Renaissance. But by then it would be far too late.

She decided she would leave nobody. Put them all on board, and run for it. But the Wildside didn't have the raw power to climb directly out of the gravity well. She'd have to arc into orbit and then lift out. That would put the flare virtually on top of her before she could make the jump. But it was okay. That wasn't the problem. The air was the problem.

Her only hope to save everyone was to rendezvous with the Condor . She couldn't do it in deep space; they'd have nothing to key on, so they wouldn't be able to find each other. Not in so short a time. She had to pick a nearby star, something within a few hours, inform Preach, go there, and hope for the best. The obvious candidate was an unnamed class-M, five light-years away. Approximately eight hours' travel time. Add that to the couple of hours it would take her to get away from the flare, and she would have people succumbing to oxygen deprivation at about the time she arrived. Even assuming the Condor showed up promptly, it was unlikely Preach would be able to find her inside another three or four hours. It was possible. He could even jump out alongside her. But it wasn't very likely.

"It's not your fault,"Bill said again.

"Bill,"she snapped,"go away."

He retired and left her to the clicks, burps, and whispers of the empty ship.

SHE STAYED ON the bridge past midnight. The engines rumbled into life at about one and began the long process of slowing the Wildside down for its rendezvous.

She looked through the archives and found an old UNN program during which Dimenna and Mary Harper and someone else she didn't know, Marvin Child, argued for the life of Renaissance Station before an Academy committee."Do you think,"demanded Harper,"we'd ask our colleagues to go out there, that we'd go out there ourselves, if we weren't sure it was safe ?"Child was thin, gray, tired. But he exhibited a fair degree of contempt for anyone who disagreed with him. Just listen to me, he suggested, and everything will be okay. Dimenna wasn't much better."Of course there's a hazard,"he conceded at the conclusion of the hearing."But we're willing to accept the risk."

What had he said to her? I told them this would happen. She listened to him and his partners assuring the world very emphatically that it would not. Hell, they'd brought their dependents out here.

When the chairman thanked them for coming, Child nodded slightly, the way one does when the last person in the pot folds his cards. He knew they had won. Too much money had already been spent on Renaissance, and some high-powered reputations were involved.

Right, they were willing to accept the risk. And now that the crunch had arrived, they were looking for old Hutch to come in and pick up their chips. Come on, babe. Get your rear end over here. Let's move.

A little before five she climbed out of her chair, trudged back to her quarters, showered, brushed her teeth, and put on a fresh uniform.

SHE CHECKED THE individual compartments to ensure they were ready. She'd need additional bedding to protect her extra passengers. That would come from the station. She directed Bill to be ready to adjust life support to maximum.

When that was done she went back to the bridge. Her failure to tell Dimenna the truth about their situation hung over her and somehow, in her own mind, laid the guilt for the calamity at her door. She knew that was crazy, but she couldn't push it away.

"We are where we are supposed to be,"said Bill, interrupting her struggle."Twenty-seven minutes to rendezvous."He was wearing a gray blazer and matching slacks."It would have been prudent to shut the place down a couple of years ago."

"A lot of people have their careers tied into Renaissance,"she said."No one yet understands all the details of star formation. It's an important project. But they sent the wrong people out, they got unlucky, and it's probably inevitable that they'd stay until the roof fell in."

THE MIST WAS becoming brighter.

Hutch was watching it flicker across a half dozen screens when Bill broke in."I have a channel open to Renaissance."

Thank God."Get Dimenna for me, Bill."

The comm screen flipped through a series of distorted images."Welcome to Renaissance,"said a strange voice, before breaking up. The signal was weak. They'd had transmitter problems of their own. The picture cleared and went out a couple of times. When Bill finally locked it in, she was looking at Dimenna.

"Good morning, Professor,"said Hutch.

He looked at her somberly."We were worried about you. I'm glad to see that you survived. And that you're"

Hutch nodded."We have a problem,"she said."Are we on a private channel?"

The muscles in his jaw moved."No. But it doesn't matter. Say what you have to say."

"There was a communication breakdown somewhere. The Wildside has limited space. I wasn't aware you had dependents."

"What? For God's sake, Woman, how could that happen?"

Maybe because nobody thought you'd be dumb enough to bring dependents out But she let it go."Ship's designed to carry thirty-one passengers. We--."

"What's that?"His face reddened, and she thought he was going to scream at her."What are we supposed to do with the rest of our people?"He wiped the back of his hand against his mouth and looked to one side and then the other. He was listening to someone. Then:"Is another ship coming?"

"Maybe,"she said.

"Maybe."

She looked at him."Let me ask you a question. We got hit by an EMP."

"It was a spillover from the jet. Happens once in a while. It wasn't an EMP. Not strictly speaking."He relaxed a bit, as if speaking about something else helped divert him from the choices he would have to make.

"It had the same effect. Fried everything on the hull."

"Yes. A stream of high-energy particles will do that. It knocked us out, too. What's your question?"

"Did you get back up? Have you been in contact with Serenity?"

"No. It's too hot out there. We set up a transmitter inside so we could talk to you. It's all we have."

She swallowed and struggled to control her voice."Then they don't know the situation."

"They certainly know we've gone dead. We were talking to them when it happened."

"Do they know you need to evacuate?"

"We were advising them of that fact."

It was like pulling teeth."And did you make your point before you got blown off the circuit?"

He struggled to keep his temper."Yes.'

Okay. They know he needs to get out. And they know the Wildside is too small. That should mean, has to mean, the Condor is on its way.

"Anything else, Captain Hutchins?"

There was."Send us everything you have on the flare."

It was still coming. It was big and it was hot and it was going to turn Renaissance into a memory. Its range had closed to 6.6 million klicks, and it was approaching at thirty-seven thousand kilometers per minute. She'd need an hour running in orbit before she could gain enough momentum to lift away.

She'd be able to get clear, but she was going to get her feet toasted.

She thanked him and signed off. Moments later, she saw a flash of silver in the mist. The station.

RENAISSANCE STATION WAS composed of three ancient superluminals: the Belize, a former Academy survey vessel; the Nakaguma, a ship that had once hauled supplies and people out to the terraformers at Quraqua; and the storied Harbinger, which had discovered the Noks, the only known living extraterrestrial civilization. There'd been a long fight to have the Harbinger declared a global monument. But the effort had failed, and the legendary ship would end its days out here in this inferno.

Their drives had been removed, hulls heavily reinforced, cooling systems beefed up. Thick connecting tubes joined them, and a vast array of sensors, antennas, particle detectors, transducers, and assorted other hardware covered the hulls.

The proud legend ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY was emblazoned across the Nakaguma's hull. And the after section of the Harbinger bore the Academy seal, a scroll and lamp framing the blue Earth of the World Council.

Ordinarily she would have turned the ship over to Bill, who liked to dock, or claimed he did. But with the sensors down, she switched to manual.

They'd hollowed out a substantial section of the Nakaguma, which was by far the largest of the three vessels, to create a service bay for incoming ships. She matched orbit and attitude and glided toward it. Several rows of utility lights blinked on to guide her, and a controller assisted. With systems down, it became fairly primitive. "A couple of degrees to port.""Ease off a bit.""That's good. Keep coming."

"You're doing quite well," said Bill.

AI's weren't supposed to display sarcasm, but there it was."Thank you, Bill,"she said quietly.

She got smoothly through the doors into the interior of the Nakaguma , and eased into the dock.

"Switch to maintenance, Bill," she said.

The AI acknowledged. Engines shut down, and power went to minimum. An access tube spiraled out of the dock and connected with her airlock. She checked to make sure her uniform looked good, opened the hatch, and strode through into Renaissance Station. Dimenna was waiting. He looked past her as if she didn't exist."You don't have much time,"he said.

She needed to replace the burned-out gear on the hull.

Her passengers were already arriving. Mostly women and children. They were carrying luggage. A few of the younger kids had toys, model starships, balls, dolls.

Outside, two technicians in e-suits hurried along the docking skirt and inserted fuel lines.

Hutch stood back to let her passengers board. Others, husbands, friends, fathers probably, a few other women, filed out into the observation gallery. One of the women pushed her child forward, a sandy-haired boy about six. Tears were streaming down her eyes. She implored Hutch to take care of the child and turned to Dimenna."I won't leave him,"she said, referring to someone not present."Put somebody else on in my place."

"Mandy,"said the director.

"His name's Jay,"Mandy told Hutch. She hugged the boy, the scene grew more tearful, and then she was gone, pushing back through those trying to get on board.

"We decided not to crowd the ship,"said Dimenna."Some of us are staying."

"That's not the way--"

He held up a hand. It was decided."Her husband is a department head."

In that moment Hutch conceived a hatred for Barber that was stronger than any emotion she had felt in her life. She wanted him dead.

"I'll get someone to replace her,"Dimenna said coldly."How exactly do we handle this? Twenty-five of us have volunteered to stay. Is that the way we do it? Does that provide a reasonable number? Or can you take a couple more without compromising safety?"

It was the most terrible moment of her life.

"We don't have to do it this way. We can load everybody up and--"

"This is the way we have chosen."

He was right, of course. If everyone boarded the Wildside, they became extra mass, slowed acceleration, used up air, put the others at risk, and eventually, barring a miracle, would have to go out through the airlock. If they stayed, they were at least in a place where a rescuing vessel would know to come. Small enough chance, but maybe the best one there was.

"Hutch," said Bill, "there are things you need to attend to if we're to get going."

The world swam around her, and she looked from Dimenna to the people staggering through the airlock, to children asking why their fathers were not coming, to the desperate faces gathered inside the gallery.

"Hutch." Bill was getting louder. "It's essential that we complete repairs on the hull. There is very little time."

She scarcely heard him. Dimenna stood before her like a judge.

And that was the moment Preacher Brawley chose to ride to the rescue. The signal from the Condor might have been picked up earlier had any of the technicians at the station been at their posts. But Bill caught it, recognized it immediately for what it was.

"Hutch," he told her, "I have good news."

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    realistic space-faring universe mindful of Star Trek

    In the far distant future, man has learned to travel at FLS (faster than light speed) but has also terraformed other planets so that humans could colonize them. One thing mankind has not found is a sentient species that is their equal or superior. They have found remnants of other civilizations that have long since died when man was crawling out of the caves and they have found a warlike race of beings that have depleted the resources of their planet with their many wars. <P>Priscilla Hutchins, Hitch to her friends, is a very good space pilot in the academy who is nearing burnout and ready to retire. She is asked, on behalf of the academy, to take control of the civilian spaceship the City of Memphis and guide the crew, members of the contact society, into deep space in hopes of meeting intelligent alien life. They discover that someone has left a series of stealth satellites in orbit around space bodies all across the galaxy. Every time they find one of their trackers, they beam something new about this universe and those who have and continue to inhabit it. <P>CHINDI is a space opera with plenty of action and unexpected developments in almost every sense. Jack McDevett has created a realistic space-faring universe mindful of Star Trek that is just waiting to be explored by Hutch, her fellow adventurers, and readers. There are many characters in this novel that deserve to have their own story told. <P>Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    A new Starwars like blockbuster waiting to be discovered!

    I love this series!! Hutch is incredible...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013

    Excellent!

    Great read, though a bit long at times

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    so many books so little time, a great writer indeed

    i have read the entire series and enjoyed them all.

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    Not Worth Reading

    Tedious & Improbable. Not worth the price.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2011

    Excellent!

    Excellent!

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  • Posted June 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A good story for those who like space travel.

    This story involves a group of people who go to explore other worlds and find an ancient mysterious ship. The story moves along pretty well but sometimes gets bogged down with too much dialogue. The use of hard science fiction by the author is easy to understand most the time, and the suspense is exciting when one of the characters is being rescued. I wouldn't say it's a book I didn't want to put down; however, the story was one I definitely wanted to finish and was unable to predict the ending.

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  • Posted May 11, 2009

    Average Science Fiction

    This was not a great book, nor was it poor. It was just average. The plot was somewhat unbelievable. There were no twists or surprises in the story. It is my recommendation that the series be read in order in order to avoid frustration as the characters recall events that took place in earlier books.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2008

    A reviewer

    This guy has some great ideas. Unfortunatly he has no idea on how to capitalize on them. His characters other than Hutch are so paper thin when some of them bought it I didnt care at all. It just seems to me like the great idea he came up with was way to over his head. I mean how many times does the same moron have to be saved from his own stupidity. That is what this book is. A great idea bogged down by a bunch of boring rescue missions. I could not wait for this book to end. I will say one thing for the man. He does create a vivid picture of space, but when the story is so unbelievably lacking especially with such a great idea as THE CHINDI (you will know what I mean if you read it). It is hard to get over the simplicity of the writing. Sorry Jack, but you lost me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2005

    Murphy's Law

    Wow! Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The book should have been titled 'Murphy's Law.' The main character is a starship pilot named Priscella Hutchins. Calamaty Jane would have been a better name. She had more tragic incidents than one could imagine. Also, the plot is improbable, and the 'science' part of 'science fiction' is not believable. This 500+ page novel should have been written on about half as much paper. I didn't like this one, and I probably won't read McDevitt again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2004

    well written, but minor plot issues

    While the plot was well written, and contails an excellent character set, certain factors which influenced the plot seemed to have been haphazardly fabricated. however, i still have to give mcdevitt some credit on an excellent novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2004

    I enjoyed it for the most part

    I enjoyed the book for the most part, but I often wonder why we never seem to meet the intelligent aliens. We always fall short of a face to face meeting. I wish we would could have a full story on the interaction between humans and an infinitely superior race. If the story is well done it would be a refreshing change from the elusive 'higher intelligences' that we never seem to meet.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2011

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews

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