“You said the external hull had suffered catastrophic damage, and couldn’t be reliably identified through long range scans due to radiointerference from the black hole,” Cassowary said softly. “Are you sure about that?”

“I have the data right here,” said Burke.

“Are you sure about that?” Cassowary cried, the speaker in her suit’s helmet crackling.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Burke said, startled. “Simmons said that the time dilation this vessel experienced during its orbit has allowed some systems to stay online, but that the damage and interference made it impossible to identify. You were there.”

“I know,” said Cassowary. “He thought it was the result of a trip through a wormhole beyond the event horizon.”

“If you know, then why ask me? Why all the shouting?” Burke said.

Cassowary sank to her knees. “I was hoping that I’d made a mistake, that I’d overlooked something. But it’s all there in the computer.”

“We ought to be concentrating on reestablishing contact with the Perihelion and finding where Grant’s team went.”

“There’s no point!” moaned Cassowary. “This is a Helios-class exploration craft, and the chronometer has been running for three thousand years. Don’t you see. Burke? It’s our ship. It’s us. We just haven’t realized it yet.”