"Look yonder." The man pointed northeast and aloft.
"That very bright star in the Milky Way Do you know it?"
"Yes," answered his son. 'Alpha Centauri. The nearest to us. it's two, really, and a third that is dim."
Don Lucas Nansen Ochoa nodded, pleased. Juan was barely past his seventh birthday "Now look up from it, a little to your right. That other brilliant one is Beta Centauri."
"Is it close, too?"
"No, it's far off Almost seventy times as far, I have read. But it shines thousands of times as bright as our sun. Most of those we see are giants. Else our eyes could not find them across their distances."
Man and boy sat their horses for a while in silence. They had drawn rein after leaving well behind them the house and its outbuildings, walled off by a cedar grove. The autumn air rested cool, still, and altogether clear. They had light enough without a moon, stars crowding heaven, galactic belt gleaming frosty. The Paraguayan plain rolled away through this dusk toward darkness, grassland broken by stands of trees and big, stumpshaped anthills. No cattle were in view, but now and then a lowing went mournfully through the early night.
"Where are they?" whispered the boy at last. Awe shivered in his words.
Don Lucas's hand traced an arc along the constellation. "Look on upward from Beta, to your left. Epsilon do you see it? and, past it, Zeta. The name Zeta means it's the sixth brightest in the Centaur. That's where the signs are.
"No, as nearly as I can find out from the news, that star just happens to be in our line of sight to the things. They are actually far beyond it."
'Are they ... are they coming here?"
"Nobody knows. But none of them are headed straight toward us. And we don't know what they are, natural or artificial or what. All the astronomers can say is that there are those fiery points of X rays moving very fast, very far away. The news programs yammer about an alien civilization, but really, it's too soon for anybody to tell." Don Lucas laughed a bit. "Least of all an old estanciero like me. I'm sorry, you asked me to explain what's been on the television, and I cannot say much more than that you must be patient."
Juan pounced. 'Are you?"
"Umm, I hope they'll corral the truth while I'm still above ground. But you should surely live to hear it."
"What do you think?"
Don Lucas straightened in the saddle. Juan saw his face shadowed by the widebrimmed hat like a pair of wings against the sky. "I may be wrong, of course," he said. "Yet I dare hope someone is faring from star to star, and someday men will."
Suddenly overwhelmed, cold lightnings aflicker in him, the boy stared past his father, outward and outward. It was as if he felt the planet whirling beneath him, about to cast him off into endlessness; and his spirit rejoiced. He became the grandfather of Ricardo Nansen Aguilar.
With never a sight of beautiful, changeable Earth, Farside gained a night which
stars made into no more than a setting for their brilliance. And the Lunar bulk shielded
it from the radio noise of the mother world; and the stable mass underfoot and the
nearvacuum overhead were likewise ideal for many kinds of science. It was no wonder that
some of the most gifted people alive were gathered here, in spite of monastic quarters and
minimal amenities. Besides, Muramoto thought, those should improve. Already the desolation
of stone and dust was redeemed by an austere elegance of domes, detectors, dishes, taut
and silvery power lines.
Excerpted from Starfarers by Poul Anderson. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher. Published by Tor Books. No part of this book can be reproduced without permission from the publisher. Copyright (c) 1998 Poul Anderson,
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