Gabrielle appeared beside me in the control room an hour before we were going to do it. The sound of her breathing, if she made such a sound, was masked by the steadily-rising whine of the charging capacitors, which even the thick bulkhead walls couldn't mask.
"Joshua," she said, her voice a frozen whisper that scratched deep inside my skull.
I looked into, and through, her eyes. The outline of the hatch behind her took on a fuzzy look. Were her eyes filled with tears, or was that just my imagination?
"I hear you," I said, wishing I could hear her voice again instead of her thoughts.
"Anna's right, isn't she? You're going, aren't you?"
Damned right we were going. We were accumulating enough juice to blast us out of hyperspace and back to Earth, and nothing was going to stop us! Four long years of being trapped in hyperspace had driven us all to the edge of desperation. At that moment I'd have done anything to see home againand, God forgive me, that included abandoning Gabrielle and the others, our shipmates, friends and lovers.
"You know we'll come back for you," I said, making myself believe it and hoping she would believe it, too. "The Company will figure out some way to get you home."
She turned her face away. "Anna doesn't think that will ever happen. She says this is something so new, something so strange, she can't see anyone ever developing a . . . a cure, if that's the right word. Anna says"
"I know what Anna says."
Lieutenant Anna Richter, the human calculator, had figured the odds of our hitting another ship in hyperspace at something like three hundred and sixteen billion to one against, using Hartmann's fourth-dimensional elasticity theorem as the basis for her calculations. But you're supposed to pass through hyperspace and get out again as quickly as possibleyou don't sit there waiting for something to hit you. Hartmann hadn't factored the witless stupidity of a supposedly intelligent alien species into his theorem. Neither had we.
The Denebans build big ships. The one we'd rammed was maybe a thousand miles long, a Worldship containing a colony of tens of millions. Not one of them had survived the impact. Denebans, or Eggheads to give them their informal name, aren't a hardy species. Internal force bubbles compartmentalized their Worldships and gave it enormous stability, but they'd inexplicably lost power, and their only protection had evaporated like mist. Our force bubble, on the other hand, had held, and we'd survived the impact, worse luck. Dammit, what the hell were they doing sitting stationary in hyperspace near the jump-point in the first place? None of them were alive to tell us.
[End of Excerpt]