Lee Richardson and Alexis Pitov, two nuclear scientists, are participating in a thermonuclear test involving a rocket and negamatter. The test is decidedly not a test to develop into weapons-grade materials. However, Pitov and Richardson cannot help but consider the fate of Auburn, NY fifteen years ago when the nuclear event shocked the world. It had to be the Soviets. But the Soviets thought it was the Americans. Maybe it was the Australians? This new experimental test provides the answer.
The colony "world" is a poverty stricken agricultural society with only two exports: the fermented products of their world's unique grapes, and the salvaged war equipment, now selling at about 1% of its true value. The legend of MERLIN, the super-computer said to have planned the grand strategy which successfully concluded the war. "If we could only find Merlin," the inhabitants said to each other, "all our problems would be solved.
It's natural to trust the unproven word of the fellow who's "on my side"--but the emotional moron is on no one's side, not even his own. Once, such an emotional moron could, at worst, hurt a few. But with the mighty, leashed forces Man employs now....
In the distant future of 1973, Professor Chalmers of Blanley University is having a little trouble with his history class. He knows the subject and all his facts are true, the only problem is none of them have happened yet. After a disastrous lesson where he accidently revealed foreknowledge of an assassination yet to happen, Professor Chalmers has to face down against a dean threatening to fire him in spite of tenure.
Fenris isn't a hell planet, but it's nobody's bargain. With 2,000-hour days and an 8,000-hour year, it alternates blazing heat with killing cold. A planet like that tends to breed a special kind of person: tough enough to stay alive and smart enough to make the best of it. When that kind of person discovers he's being cheated of wealth he's risked his life for, that kind of planet is ripe for revolution.
Was this ill-fated expedition the end of a proud, old race--or the beginning of a new one? There are strange gaps in our records of the past. We find traces of man-like things--but, suddenly, man appears, far too much developed to be the "next step" in a well-linked chain of evolutionary evidence. Perhaps something like the events of this story furnishes the answer to the riddle.