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256 pages, Mass Market Paperback
First published September 1, 1990
"Ever since I was a student at Oxford, I have suspected that deep in the core of every star there is a special substance—a substance that holds the key to explaining how stars really function."
"Isn't that the stuff you've written so much about? The stuff you call PLC?"
"PCL," corrected Grandfather. "It stands for Pure Condensed Light."
"So you've finally proved that PCL exists?" asked Kate.
"Even better," answered Grandfather, and his eyebrows lifted like rising white clouds. "I have identified all of its ingredients. I now possess the recipe for PCL."
"I still don't get it. How does making some substance that's found in stars allow you to travel faster than light?"
"Well," answered the inventor as he studied the humming box closely, "during my years of work on PCL I've learned enough about it to predict that it has some rather unusual properties. For example, it ought to melt anything frozen that touches it. But very recently—purely by accident—I discovered that it also has another property. An absolutely astonishing property."
Kate could feel his swelling enthusiasm and it stirred her own. "What property is that?"
Grandfather straightened his tall frame and looked squarely at her. "PCL has the ability to liberate the part of us most similar to pure light."
"You mean our souls?" asked Kate in wonderment.
As he twisted more dials, the brightly colored gases of a great nebula surrounding the star came into view. They spiraled around it like a brilliant veil of incandescent clouds, finally fading into the deep darkness of space.
Pressing a button, he brought the swirling clouds into sharper focus, revealing several planets which orbited through the glowing gases of the star's system. One of them gleamed with a pearly white color. In the center of the spiraling veil, the great red star Trethoniel sat like an imperious queen upon her throne, unaging and untouchable.
Grandfather spun another dial, and the seething, scorching surface of the star completely filled the screen. Towers of superheated gases danced thousands of miles out into space.
"Do you see the dark blotch in the lower hemisphere?"
"It looks like a huge sunspot."
"If only it were! That is a PCL void deep within the core of the Sun. And according to the figures, it's spreading like a deadly cancer. At this rate, the Sun has no more than a thousand years left to live."
Morpheus slowly blinked his great green eyes.
He had said that every star eventually reaches a point where the age-old balance between its own gravity, which pulls inward, and its radiant energy, which pulls outward, will fall apart. If it's a normal star, like the Sun, it will suddenly shudder and compress down to the size of a moon. But if it's unusually massive, it could expand and expand like a luminous red balloon until—at last—it will burst and collapse so fast and so far that it will disappear completely, leaving nothing behind but a black hole.
...a new formation, shimmering in the stellar breeze, caught Kate's attention. It resembled a kind of curtain, a curtain made of thousands of lavender-tinted icicles. She heard them tinkling gently as the winds passed through them, and the soothing sound helped her mood to pass as well.
"This creature must be made of some kind of anti-light!" cried Morpheus.