Another adventure for Academy space pilot Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins (Deepsix, 2001, etc.). When a ship detects a brief but apparently modulated transmission from an unknown source near a neutron star, the aliens-or-bust members of the Contact Society summon a state-of-the-art spaceship and declare their determination to track the transmission to its source. The Academy selects Hutch, veteran of several archaeological expeditions to distant stars, to pilot them. At the neutron star, they confirm the transmissions, but find no aliens: instead, three “stealthed” satellites transmit information to a destination in another star system. Soon, other satellites are found orbiting stars that the unknown builders consider of interest—including Earth. A close friend of Hutch’s takes one of the satellites aboard his ship for study and analysis; soon thereafter the ship explodes. Coincidence? Following the transmissions, Hutch and party—including dilettante leader George Hockelmann, soft-porn actress Alyx Ballinger, and artist Tor Kirby, one of Hutch's old flames—discover a planet whose civilization was destroyed by nuclear war; and, still farther afield, a bizarre and beautiful system where, on a moon orbiting a pair of ringed gas giant planets, they find a house complete with artifacts, books, and a burial plot. More important yet, a colossal alien spaceship's busy refueling nearby. Naturally, Hutch's bold but foolhardy explorers demand to investigate.
Slow to start, and the tepid, tentative romance doesn't help; happily, the puzzles wrapped in explanations within mysteries and cliffhanging resolution are well up to McDevitt's previous high standards.