Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 28 June 2012.
The spaceship Chinook has jumped at
random through a T machine field and is in an unknown planetary system.
The bearings of other galaxies show this system to be about 500 light
years from Sol towards Hercules. This makes Deneb and the Orion Nebula
The new sun is a red dwarf with five planets, none like Earth. The Chinook
crew detect artificial radio signals from a gas giant which they name
Danu. The ship's boat investigates and finds inhabitants like flying
whales with whom they exchange music. The Danaans have instruments made of
metal which could not have been mined on a planet whose surface is hot
liquid hydrogen so must have been donated by the Others who constructed
the T machines.
10 to 20 billion years ago. Dark empty
space with no stellar background. Gas clouds collapsing into galaxies.
One supergiant star, 50,000 times as luminous as Sol, has been big
enough to form this early but with just a single companion, not as part
of a cluster.
The Others must have originated even
earlier when an unusual concentration of elements in a nebula generated a
star with life-bearing planets.
Bearings of other galaxies and shape of home galaxy indicate thousands of light years from Earth, same era. Chinook
has emerged near a star temporarily green because leaving the main
sequence and shortly to expand into a red giant, about ten billion years
old but containing enough heavy elements to indicate that it might have
formed near a supernova.
The crew detect repetitive radio signals
from an old, dying planet they name Pandora. A force field protects
uninhabited buildings with an empty spacecraft base and the radio
transmitter. A landing party find ruins and three-eyed animals but is
attacked by savages and leaves. Theory: the old race has left but
sometimes returns to guide the savages who have evolved during the
Millions of years futureward, in the same
spiral arm, thousands of light years closer to galactic centre. A
"...whirling sword of light..." is a pulsar/neutron star with a
quasi-solid quaking surface under a six millimeter atmosphere. (1) A
curved shell around the T machine shields emerging spacecraft from the
destructive pulsar ray. Near the T machine is a station for visitors of
different species. Chinook's holothete, Joelle, a human being
linked to a computer, communicates in binary code with the station which
informs her that, on the pulsar's surface, interactions between raw
nuclei generate self-replicating, thus living, structures lasting for
mere seconds but so energetic that they experience the equivalent of
more than a century so that to them human beings would be as inert as
The station guides the holothete to contact with the Oracle, a self-aware Others' artifact on the pulsar, which:
is as intelligent as a human being in holothesis;
counsels pulsar life ("...the star dwellers..." (2)) to whom it is a gigantic shrine;
records and plays back pulsar history;
mediates between pulsar life and visitors to the station;
possibly modulates strong nuclear forces to communicate quasi-telepathically with the star dwellers;
communicates, possibly by quark beams, with the station which relays by radio etc;
slows or speeds communications as appropriate for receivers.
The star dwellers:
had no idea of a sky in the pulsar's radiation haze;
exploring through a billion generations, found the Fire Fountains;
explore the Fountains, climbed thirteen millimeter high mountains,
which last as long as a terrestrial year, through many generations and
reaching the top of the atmosphere, tunneled up through a mountain;
a million lifetimes later, saw the stars through a transparent dome.
With knowledge from the Oracle, Joelle plans a route between T machines to take Chinook to the frontier where the Others still construct new T machines.
(1) Anderson, Poul, The Avatar, London, 1985, p. 319.
(2) ibid., p. 330.