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6

Some days later, the sensors on Sun One reported that the probe was in a stable orbit. The beings on Sun One responded with pleasure; everyone was delighted that the project was a success.

Now stable, the probe began to do the work for which it had been designed.

The complex H-bomb sequencing units and the small, strong pressure-plate shock absorbers fell away, responding to remote controls from Sun One. They would never be used again.

The tachyon-receiving unit began to emit a stream of tiny metallic shards, none larger than a few inches in its greatest measure.

When some hundreds of them were through, floating like a metallic mist around the drone, a quick small machine came through and began to catch them and link them together. Time passed, hours and then days. A queer box-like shape took form and became a larger tachyon receiver, ready for action.

From tens of thousands of light-years away an angular, crystalline machine flashed along the tachyon patterns and emerged in the new receiver. It was not alive. Was not even a robot, or a proxy like the purchased people. It was simply an automatic machine that sensed certain potentials and charges, double-checked the strength of the materials and the solidity of the joints, directed the hummingbird-sized construction machine to correct a few faults and then reported that Cuckoo Station, the orbiting body around what had been called Object Lambda, was now ready to be built.

A few hours later the first girders of a thousand-metre revolving wheel were being joined together.

Plates appeared to surround the girders with an airtight sheath. Machines arrived to be stored in them. Atmosphere was pumped through to fill the chambers. The handling machines were busy, taxed beyond their capacities; more handling machines were sent and soon the orbiting station was whole, supplied, and being-rated.

The first living beings appeared. A Sheliak, naked to the cold of intergalactic space - but for the brief time of its transition to the orbiting wheel unharmed by it. A dozen TWorlies in a single elastic air bubble, scurrying into the protection of the orbital wheel. There were Sirians, reptilian Aldebaranians, a hive of Boaty-Bits, and, at the last, a couple of humans.

One of them was named Ben Line Pertin.

He floated out of the tachyon receiver in his pressure suit, his thruster unit ready in his hands.

He did not use it at once; he paused a moment, to look around.

The first thing he did was to stare down at the enormous flat surface of Cuckoo, so near, so huge, so incredible as it hung like an endless shield in the sky.

The second was to look back to where the Galaxy lay, sparkling like the sea of stars it was.

He could not see the doomship, but he knew it must be somewhere in his line of sight. There were no signals from it any more. There was no way of detecting it, and would not be for tens of thousands of years.

He stared for a moment, then half-shrugged. Poor bastards, he whispered, and turned and drove towards the wheel awaiting him.


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