PART ONE – The Fire Is Lit

PART TWO – Fusing and Refusing

PART THREE – The Outpouring

PART FOUR – Breaking the Mold


PART SIX – Hammer and Anvil

PART SEVEN – Well and Fitly Shaped



It is becoming more and more widely accepted that Ice Ages coincide with the passage of the Solar System through the spiral arms of our galaxy. It therefore occurred to me to wonder what would become of a species that evolved intelligence just before their planet’s transit of a gas-cloud far denser than the one in Orion which the Earth has recently—in cosmic terms—traversed.

In my attempt to invent its history I have frequently relied on the advice of Mr. Ian Ridpath, whose prompt and generous aid I gratefully acknowledge.



In the center of the huge rotating artificial globe the folk assembled to await retelling of an age-old story.

Before them swam a blur of light. Around them was a waft of pheromones. Then sound began, and images took form.

A sun bloomed, with its retinue of planets, moons and comets. One was the budworld. Slowly—yet how much more swiftly than in the real past!—a wild planet curved out of space towards what had once been their race’s home.

“If only they had known…!” somebody murmured.

“But they did not!” the instructor stressed. “Remember that, throughout the whole of what you are to watch! You are not here to pity them, but to admire!”





Now the sun was down, the barq was growing tired. The current opposing her was swift, and there was a real risk she might be driven against the rocks that beset the channel and puncture her gas-bladders. After countless attempts to sting her into more vigorous activity, the steersman laid by his goad and grumpily tipped into her maw the last barrelful of the fermented fish and seaweed which served to nourish boat, crew and passengers alike. Waiting for the belch that would signal its digestion, he noticed Jing watching from her saddle of lashed planks, as anxious as though his weather-sense were predicting storms, and laughed.

“You won’t be a-dream before we get where we’re bound!” he promised in the coarse northern speech which the foreigner had scarcely yet attuned his hearing to.

It was hard to realize there was anywhere worth traveling to in this barren landscape. Most of the time the shore was veiled with rags of fog, because the water was so much warmer than the air. What a place to choose for studying the sky! Even though, with the sun setting so much earlier every day, it was possible to believe in the legend which had lured him hither: a night that lasted almost half a year. Not that there could ever be total darkness; here, as everywhere, the Bridge of Heaven—what these northerners called the Maker’s Sling—curved in its gleaming arc across the welkin. And, near the horizon, less familiar and altogether awe-inspiring, the New Star was framed in its irregular square of utter black like a jewel on a pad of swart-fur.

But neither that celestial mystery, nor the prospect of going hungry, was what preyed most on the mind of Ayi-Huat Jing, court astrologer and envoy plenipotentiary of His Most Puissant Majesty Waw-Yint, Lord of the Five-Score Islands of Ntah. Compelled by his sworn oath, a whole miserable year ago he had set forth in state, riding the finest mount in his master’s herd and accompanied by forty prongsmen and ten banners inscribed with his rank and status. His mission was to seek out wise folk beyond the mountains that ringed the Lake of Ntah and inquire of them the meaning of the New Star. His countrymen had long imagined that they understood the reason why the heavens changed—for change they definitely did. He carried with him a fat roll of parchment sheets on which had been copied star-maps depicting the sky on the accession-dates of the last score rulers of Ntah, and on the date of every eclipse during their reigns. Sixteen stars were shown on the most recent which in olden times had not been there, and marks recorded others which had appeared and faded in a matter of days. But there had never been one so brilliant, or so long-lasting, or in so black a patch of sky. According to the philosophers of Ntah, right action was reflected in heaven, and sufficient of it earned a diminution of the darkness. Eventually, they promised, the time would come when the heavens would be as bright by night as by day.

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Categories: John Brunner