"I see. I thought so," he replied. Intently: "You think you have found
more starship trails, don't you?"
She nodded. Although he was not surprised, his mind whirled back through time, twentyseven years, and again he was a boy, watching the news, listening to the discussions, feeling the dream explode into reality.
Pointlike sources of hard X rays with radio tails, crisscrossing a region in the
Centaur Some have come suddenly into being as we watched, others have blanked out.
Parallax measurements taken across interplanetary spans show they are five thousand
lightyears distant. Therefore maximum transverse motion joins with Doppler effect to
show they are traveling at virtually the speed of light.
What can they be but the trails of material objects blasting through the interstellar medium?
Slowly, grudgingly, more and more physicists admit that the least fantastic hypothesis is that they indicate spacecraft.
They aren't many, less than a hundred, and they seemed confined to a volume of perhaps two hundred parsecs' diameter Why that is, why they don't range everywhere, why they haven't come to us those are among the mysteries. But all at once, humans around the whole Earth want us also to be in space.
Through a quickening pulsebeat, he heard Lewis's carefully dry voice: "Lately, here, using the Maxwell superconducting telescope, we've found what appear to be similar phenomena elsewhere. The traces are faint, scattered, from sources far more distant than those behind Zeta Centauri. They are few, and none is as rich in objects as that region is. But there they are. Or so we think.
"To confirm, we need better instruments. That will also let us pinpoint them in the galaxy. More important, new theoretical work suggests that improved data will give clues to what the power source is. There's the great stumbling block, you know. Where does the energy come from? I honestly believe we're on the verge of a revolution in our understanding of the universe.
"I can show you around, introduce you to the people doing the research, let you judge for yourself before you report to your group. Would you like that?"
I - I would," he answered inadequately. 'And no promises, you realize, but - I expect you'll get what you want."
It happened that Avery Houghton launched his coup on the day that Edward Olivares
recorded a television interview. Nothing had overtly begun when the physicist reached his
office, but the crisis had been building up for weeks demands, threats, demonstrations,
riots and was now unmistakably close to the breaking point. Most Americans who could
stayed home, huddled over the newscasts. The amberhued Hispanic facades of Caltech stood
on a nearly deserted campus, impossibly sunlit and peaceful, while fighter jets drew
contrails across the blue above them.
Olivares was stubborn about keeping promises. He arrived at the appointed hour. The camera crew was already on hand, trying hard not to act nervous. Joanne Fleury succeeded in it. She had her own professional pride.
"I fear we won't draw much of an audience," Olivares remarked while the crew was setting up.
"Maybe not for the first showing," Fleury said, "though I imagine a fair number will tune in around the world regardless of our troubles here. But the rebroadcasts will pull their billions."
"We could postpone"
"No, if you please, sir. This is going to be a classic in science journalism. Let's do it while we've got the chance."
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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