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By the beginning of the fourth decade of the twenty-first century, it seemed that the human race was finally learning to live together and that it was on its way to the stars. Having abandoned the crippling arms race and disbanded the bulk of their strategic forces, the superpowers were instead pouring their billions into a massive transfer of Western technology and know-how to the nations of the Third World. With the increased wealth and living standards that came universally with global industrialization, and the security and variety that accompanied more affluent lifestyles, population became self-limiting, and hunger, poverty, along with most of mankind's other traditional age-old scourges, at last looked as if they were on the brink of being eradicated permanently. While the U.S.-Soviet rivalry transformed itself into a war of wits and diplomacy for economic and political influence among the stabilizing nation-states, Man's adventure lust found its expression in a revitalized multinational space program, which burst outward across the Solar System in a new wave of exploration and expansion coordinated under a specially formed UN Space Arm. Lunar development and exploitation proceeded rapidly, permanent bases appeared on Mars and in orbit above Venus, and a series of large-scale manned missions reached the outer planets.

But probably the greatest revolution of the times was the upheaval in science that had followed some of the discoveries made on the Moon and out at Jupiter in the course of these explorations. In the space of just a few years, a series of astonishing discoveries had toppled beliefs unquestioned since the beginnings of science, forced a rewriting of the history of the Solar System itself, and culminated in Man's first encounter with an advanced alien species.

A hitherto unknown planet, christened Minerva by the investigators who unraveled the story, had once occupied the position between Mars and Jupiter in the Solar System as originally formed, and had been inhabited by a race of eight-foot-tall aliens who came to be known as the "Ganymeans" after the first evidence of their existence came to light on Ganymede, largest of the Jovian moons. The Ganymean civilization, which flourished until twenty-five million years before the present, vanished abruptly. Some of Earth's scientists believed that deteriorating environmental conditions on Minerva might have forced the "Giants" to migrate to some other star system, but the matter had not been settled conclusively. Much later-some fifty thousand years prior to the current period in Earth's history-Minerva was destroyed. The bulk of its mass, thrown outward into an eccentric orbit at the edge of the Solar System, became Pluto. The remainder of the debris was dispersed by Jupiter's tidal effect and formed the Asteroid Belt.

While the pieces of this puzzle were still being fitted together, a starship from the ancient Ganymean civilization returned. Having undergone a relativistic time dilation that was compounded by technical problems in the vessel's spacetime-distorting drive system, the net result was that an elapsed time of twenty-odd years for the ship corresponded to the passing of something in the order of a million times that number on Earth. The Shapieron had departed from Minerva before the onset of whatever had befallen the rest of the Ganymean race, and its occupants were therefore unable to either confirm or refute the theories of the terrestrial researchers involved with the subject. The Giants stayed for six months, combining their efforts with those of Earth's scientists in search of more clues an mingling harmoniously into Earth's society. Mankind had found a friend, and the remnant of the Ganymean race had, it was assumed, found a home.

But it was not to be. Investigations uncovered a hint that the Ganymean civilization had migrated to a star located near the constellation of Taurus-a star that came to be called the "Giants' Star." There was not guarantee, but there was hope. Shortly afterward the Shapieron departed, leaving behind a sad, but in many ways wiser, world.

Radio observatories on lunar Farside beamed a signal toward the Giants' Star to forewarn of the Shapieron's coming. Though the signal would take years to cover the distance, it would still arrive well ahead of the ship. To the astonishment of the scientists who composed the transmission, a reply purporting to have come from the Giants' Star and confirming that it was indeed the new home of the Ganymeans was received only hours after they began sending. But by that time the Shapieron had already left, and news of the message could not be relayed to it because of the spacetime distortion induced around the craft by its drive, which prevented electromagnetic signals from being received coherently. There was nothing more that the scientists on Earth could do; the Shapieron had vanished back into the void from whence it had come, and many more years of uncertainty would pass before the Ganymeans aboard it would know whether or not their quest was in vain.

The transmitters on lunar Farside continued sending intermittently during the three months that followed, but no further reply was evoked.

 
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