(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed narrator, a Jesuit priest, is the astrophysicist on an exploratory scientific spacecraft. He is constantly reminded of this duality by his shipmates and by the very decorations and features of his room. The Jesuit speaks throughout the story to an unnamed “you” who is often unknown, sometimes himself, at times St. Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), and finally, God. The narrator’s several brief asides show his distress over something the ship has discovered.

The ship has come to the Phoenix Nebula, the remains of a star that became a supernova, to try to reconstruct the events that led up to the catastrophe and, if possible, to learn its cause. Expecting to find only the burned star, the ship makes a much more exciting, and ultimately poignant, discovery. The last planet of the star’s system survived the burning, and an artifact is sending out a beacon from its surface. Although untrained for this unexpected archaeological work, the crew enthusiastically sets out to discover what secrets and treasures have been waiting through the centuries for discovery and rescue.

A monolithic marker leads the men to the hopes of the race doomed by the supernova, a civilization that knew it was about to die and had made a last bid for immortality. The artifact contains artwork, recordings, and written works, including keys for their translation. It also contains photographs of beautiful cities and happy children playing on beaches...

(The entire section is 483 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story's protagonist is identified only as Father. A Jesuit priest, he is also the astrophysicist on a space mission that has made a...

(The entire section is 292 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The story opens with the unnamed first-person narrator musing that at one time he had believed that his travels in outer space could not...

(The entire section is 394 words.)