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right, prepare fighters for launch," she snapped off orders. "Call in every White Star in the area. We're going out there."

Corwin blinked in surprise when he heard that. "We are?" he asked, but then he realized that she'd cut off the corn-link connection. In retrospect, that was probably a fortunate thing. Ivanova might have taken the off-the-cuff comment the wrong way.

Sure, there was an alien artifact, and sure, people aboard the station were turning into violence-crazed goons, and sure, bizarre ships had emerged and seemed to be preparing for some further onslaught.

But Ivanova made him really nervous.

Then chatter started to come in through C&C's com systems. The Starfury pilots were seeking guidance as to what their next move should be, particularly considering that the artifact not only seemed invulnerable to attack, but its defenders had easily dispatched the entirety of Delta Squadron with one shot.

Corwin-who, perversely, found himself wishing that Ivanova, of all people, were running things right about then-got on line and said briskly, "Hold position. Repeat, hold position, we've got reinforcements on the way."

The voice of one of the Starfury pilots said, "They'd better get here soon.... I don't know what's going to come out of that thing next, but I'd bet good money it's a hell of a lot bigger than we are."

From his vantage point in C&C, Corwin stared through the observation window at the artifact. He fancied that he could see a chaotic, swirling darkness within, but he couldn't discern just what that darkness might be composed of, and he was absolutely positive that there was something still deeper within, hiding, waiting ...

... waiting, but not for much longer.

In the heart of darkness, we prepare.

Around us, black stars glisten
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