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New Year's Eve, 599
It seems safe now to assume that the terrestrial origin of life was a unique event. Some will quibble that we have, after all, seen only a few thousand of the billions of worlds drifting through the gently curving corridors we once called biozones. But we have stood on too many warm beaches and looked across seas over which no gulls hover, that throw forth neither shells, nor strands of weed, nor algae. They are peaceful seas, bounded by rock and sand.
The universe has come to resemble a magnificent but sterile wilderness, an ocean which boasts no friendly coast, no sails, no sign that any have passed this way before. And we cannot help but tremble in the gray light of these vast distances. Maybe that is why we are converting the great interstellar liners into museums, or selling them for parts. Why we have begun to retreat, why the Nine Worlds are now really six, why the frontier is collapsing why we are going home to our island.
We are coming back at last to Earth. To the forests of our innocence. To the shores of night. Where we need not listen to the seaborne wind.
Farewell, Centaurus. Farewell to all we might have been.
-- Elio Kardi, "The Shores of Night," Voyagers, 571
"Nova goes in three minutes." Dr. Kimberly Brandywine looked out across the dozen or so faces in the briefing room. In back, lenses were pointed at her, sending the event out across the nets. Behind, her projections read HELLO TO THE UNIVERSE and KNOCK and IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?
Several flatscreens were positioned around the walls, showingtechnicians bent over terminals in the Trent. These were the teams that would ignite the nova, but the images were fourteen hours old, the time required for the hypercomm transmissions to arrive.
Everyone present was attractive and youthful, except sometimes for their eyes. However vital and agile people were, their true age tended to reveal itself in their gaze. There was a hardness that came with advancing years, eyes that somehow lost their depth and their animation. Kim was in her midthirties, with exquisite features and hair the color of a raven's wing. In an earlier era, they would have launched ships for her. in her own age, she was just part of the crowd.
"If we haven't found anybody after all this time," the representative from Seabright Communications was saying, "it can only be because there's nobody to find. Or, if there is, they're so far away it doesn't matter."
She delivered her standard reply, discounting the great silence, point-ing out that even after eight centuries humans had still inspected only afew thousand star systems. "But you may be right ," she admitted."Maybe we are alone. But the fact is that we really don't know. So we'll keep trying.'"
Kim had long since concluded that Seabright was right, They hadn't found so much as an amoeba out there. Briefly, at the beginning of the Space Age, there'd been speculation that life might exist in Europa's seas. Or in Jupiter's clouds. There'd even been a piece of meteoric rock thought to contain evidence of Martian bacteria. It was as dose to extraterrestrial life as we'd ever come.
Hands were still waving.
"One more question," she said.
She gave it to Canon Woodbridge, a science advisor for the Grand Council of the Republic. He was tall, dark, bearded, almost satanic in appearance, yet a congenial fiend, one who meant no harm. "Kim" he said, "why do you think we're so afraid of being alone? Why do we want so much to find our own reflections out there?" He glanced in the direction of the screens, where the technicians continued their almostceremonial activities.
How on earth would she know? "I have no idea, Canon," she said.
"But you're deeply involved in the Beacon Project. And your sister devoted her life to the same goal."
"Maybe it's in the wiring." Emily, her done actually, had vanished when Kim was seven. She paused momentarily and tried to deliver a thoughtful response, something about the human need to communicate and to explore. "I suspect," she said, "if there's really nothing out there, if the universe is really empty, or at least this part of it is, then maybe a lot of us would feel there's no point to the trip.' There was more to it than that, she knew. Some primal urge not to be alone. But when she tried to put it into words she floundered around, gave up, and glanced at the clock.
One minute to midnight, New Year's Eve, in the two hundred eleventh year of the Republic and the six hundredth year since Marquand's landing. One minute to detonation.
"How are we doing on time?" asked one of the journalists. "Are they on schedule?"
"Yes," Kim said. "As of ten A.M. this morning." The hypercomm signal from the Trent required fourteen hours and some odd minutes to travel the 580 light-years from the scene of detonation. I think we're safe to assume that the nova is imminent.'
She activated an overhead screen, which picked up an image of the target star. Alpha Maxim was a bright AO-class. Hydrogen lines prominent. Surface temperature 11,000* C. Luminosity sixty times that of Helios. Five planets. All barren. Like every other known world, save the few that had been terraformed.
It would be the first of six novas. All would occur within a volume of space which measured approximately five hundred cubic light-years. And they would be triggered at sixty-day intervals. It would be a demonstration that could not help but draw the attention of anyone who might be watching. The ultimate message to the stars: We are here.
But she believed, as almost everyone else did, that the great silence would continue to roll back. Infinity Beach. Copyright © by Jack McDevitt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.