-- Chapter 18

-- Chapter 19

-- Chapter 20

-- Chapter 21


From just over a billion kilometers away, the dwarf star burned like a distant, constant flare; the brightest light in the darkness, but still only a pinpoint of red fire. And the darkness was very empty.

Any star system is largely empty. In any star system, if one were to take the combined mass of all the planets, all the asteroids and ice fragments, even of the star itself, and average it against the volume of space through which the gravity of that system's star hold measurable sway, the result would be statistically indistinguishable from hard vacuum.

But the importance of a star system isn't measured in mass. A round speck of iron and silicon wreathed in a thin bubble of gas could be a habitable world, home to millions or even billions of people. A ball of fusing hydrogen could be the sun gives that world warmth and light.

There was no such importance here; the red dwarf's system lacked any worthwhile planet within its vast volume, no living worlds and no concentrations of resources valuable enough to draw life from other places. It didn't even rate a proper name of its own, just a designation, Sigma-Charybdis Waypoint II, based on the name of a more important star system; Sigma-Charybdis.

Indeed, but for an accident of astrography the unremarkable red dwarf system would have had no importance at all. The system's only value was its location. It was conveniently positioned and its galactic orbit was stable; no faster and no slower than its neighboring stars.

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