“Well,” he said after a moment, “TJ and the rest of the team and I have already taken a pretty close look at the data you people have been able to provide. Obviously, you didn’t begin to have the instrumentation we’ve brought with us, so we weren’t actually in a position to reach any hard and fast conclusions about what we have here. One thing we have observed, however, is that the terminus’ gravitic signature is quite low. In fact, we’re a bit surprised anyone even noticed it.”

“Really?” Du Havel leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. Kare looked at him, and the prime minister shrugged with a smile. “Oh, this certainly isn’t my area of expertise, Doctor! I’m fully prepared to accept what you’ve just said, but I have to admit it piques my interest a bit. I was under the impression that ever since the existence of wormholes was first demonstrated, one of the very first things any stellar survey team’s done is look very hard for them.”

“That they do, Mr. Prime Minister,” Kare acknowledged wryly. “Indeed, they do! But, as I’m sure all of you are aware, wormholes and their termini are usually a minimum of a couple of light-hours away from the stars with which they’re associated. And what somebody who isn’t a hyper-physicist may not realize is that unless they’re particularly big, you also have to get within, oh, maybe four or five light-minutes before they’re going to show up at all. There are certain stellar characteristics — we call them ‘wormhole fingerprints’ — we’ve learned to look for when there’s a terminus in the vicinity, but they aren’t always present. Again, the bigger or stronger the wormhole, the more likely the ‘fingerprints’ are to show up, as well.

“What we appear to have here, however, is a case of pure serendipity on someone’s part. My team and I have looked very carefully at Torch, and we’ve determined that it really does have most of the ‘fingerprints,’ but they’re extremely faint. In fact, it took several runs of computer enhancement before we were able to pick them out at all. That’s not entirely surprising, given Torch’s relative youth. Despite their mass, F-class stars are statistically less likely to possess termini at all, and when they do, the ‘fingerprints’ are almost invariably fainter than usual. That means nobody should have been looking for a terminus associated with this star in the first place, and, in the second place, that they shouldn’t have been looking just sixty-four light-minutes from the primary. That’s ridiculously close. In fact, our search of the literature indicates that it’s the nearest any terminus associated with an F6 has ever been located relative to its associated primary. Coupled with how faint its Warshawski signature is, that suggests to us that whoever found it in the first place must have almost literally stubbed his toe on it. He sure shouldn’t have been looking for it there, at any rate!”

He paused and shook his head, his expression wry. In a properly run universe people like Manpower wouldn’t have the kind of luck it must have taken for them to stumble across a discovery like this one.

Although, he reminded himself, I could be wrong about that. I’m pretty sure Manpower has to be gnashing its teeth over the thought that the goody they found has ended up in the clutches of a batch of anti-slavery “terrorists” like the Torches. So maybe what this really represents is the fact that God has a particularly nasty sense of humor where “people like Manpower” are concerned.

That possibility, he reflected, was enough to warm the cockles of his heart.

“In addition to making it hard to find in the first place, the faintness of this terminus’ Warshawski signature, coupled with its unusually close proximity to the primary, also indicates that it’s almost certainly not especially huge. Frankly, despite the rumors to the contrary, I’ll be surprised if there’s more than one additional terminus associated with it — it looks a lot like one end of a two-loci system, what we call a ‘wormhole bridge,’ unlike the multi-loci ‘junctions’ like the Manticore Junction. Some of the bridges are more valuable than quite a few of the junctions we’ve discovered over the centuries, of course. It all depends on where the ends of the bridge are.”

The Torches at the table nodded to show they were following his explanation. From their expressions — especially Du Havel’s — the prediction that their wormhole was going to connect to only one other location wasn’t exactly welcome, though.

“Even in a worst-case scenario, most wormholes are significant long-term revenue producers,” Captain Zachary put in. Obviously she’d seen the same expressions Kare had.

“Unless the other terminus of this one is somewhere out in previously totally unexplored space — which is possible, of course — then it’s still going to be a huge timesaver for people wanting to go from wherever the other end is to anything close to this end,” she continued. “It’s only four days from here to Erewhon even for a merchant ship, for example, and only about thirteen days from here to Maya. And from Erewhon to the Star Kingdom’s only about four days via the Erewhon wormhole. So if the other end of your wormhole is somewhere in the Shell, anyone wanting to reach those destinations is going to be able to shave literally months off of her transit time. I’m not suggesting you’re going to see anywhere near the volume of traffic we see through the Junction, of course, but I’m pretty sure there’s still going to be enough to give your treasury a hefty shot in the arm.”

“Maybe not a goldmine, but at least a silver mine, you mean?” a grinning Queen Berry asked.

“Something along those lines, Your Majesty,” Zachary agreed with an answering smile.

“Which probably wasn’t exactly a non-factor in Mr. Hauptman’s thinking,” Kare added, and chuckled. “From what I’ve seen and heard, he’d probably think backing this survey was a good idea even if it wasn’t likely to add a single dime to his own cash flow. On the other hand, I understand he’s going to be showing a nice long-term profit on his share of your transit fees.”

“I think it’s what’s referred to as ‘a comfortable return,'” Du Havel said dryly. “One-point-five percent of all transit fees for the next seventy-five years ought to come to a pretty fair piece of change.”

Several people chuckled this time, and Kare nodded in acknowledgment of the prime minister’s point. At the same time, the hyper-physicist really did feel confident Hauptman would have backed the survey effort, anyway. It was obvious to Kare that Klaus Hauptman regarded not making a profit for his shareholders whenever possible as a perversion roughly equivalent to eating one’s own young. He supposed no one became as successful as Hauptman without that sort of attitude, and he didn’t have any particular problem with it himself. But anyone who bothered to take a look around the Torch System would have been forced to concede that Hauptman also put his personal fortune’s money where his principles were.