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Academy series concludes with Cauldron

Jack McDevitt

The Academy has been converted into a retirement complex. Similar fates have overtaken its European and Asian counterparts. The museum remains intact, and visitors occasionally stroll past the Morning Pool and the South Wall, on which are engraved the names of all those who gave their lives on Academy missions.

The interstellar age is effectively over. Colonization never became practical: It required vast expenditures of resources with little to be gained. No visible corporate gain. Furthermore, the difficulties involved in establishing a self-supporting human settlement in an alien biosystem — or in a completely sterile environment — were daunting. By the middle of the 23rd century, one could ride a tour through the nearby stars, but that was about it. The fears raised by the moonriders of twenty years earlier had subsided as the moonriders themselves vanished from local skies. The lesson was learned: Stay home and avoid problems.

But Henry Barber, one of the preeminent physicists of the era, was working in Locarno, Switzerland, to develop a more effective FTL drive. The scientific community, with few exceptions, believed it could not be done. When Barber died and the effort closed down, no one was surprised.

Priscilla Hutchins spends her time doing speaking engagements, often as a fundraiser for the Prometheus Foundation, a private organization which, with a fleet consisting of two ships, tries to carry on the old Academy mission. Several months after Barber's death, she is approached by Jon Silvestri, a member of the Barber team. He claims to have the Locarno drive in hand. "I only need to run some tests."

Places that the Foundation would like very much to visit include Makai 4417, at a range of 8,000 light-years. Makai is believed to be the home of the race that launched the chindi, but it lies hopelessly beyond the range of the current Hazeltine drive. They are also looking at Sigma 2711, from which an artificial radio signal had been received at the end of the last century. Sigma is 15,000 light-years out. There's a black hole at Tenareif. And finally, the Mordecai Zone, the apparent source of the omega clouds, near the galactic core.

All become accessible if the Locarno Drive can be made to work.

Cauldron: The last Academy novel


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