Star Light (short story)

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Star Light is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the October 1962 issue of Scientific American and reprinted in Asimov's 1968 collection Asimov's Mysteries.

Plot summary[edit]

Arthur Trent is a starship pilot and the young accomplice of Brennmeyer, an elderly and brilliant researcher. Brennmeyer has been planning for thirty years to flee local governments and find a place from which to deal lucratively with criminal elements outside of known civilization. They have stolen a quantity of a valuable metal called "krillium" that will enable them to build large numbers of robots that they can sell to the highest bidder.

Brennmeyer has compiled extensive data on stars and inhabited planets for many thousands of light-years around, so he feels quite confident that a randomly directed jump through hyperspace shall place them well beyond the reach of the police but within reach of a useful planet. (They will jump randomly because the time required to compute an ordinary jump is long enough that the police would catch them before the computation is complete.) He has engaged Trent to pilot their getaway ship, since he can no longer do so himself. Trent, however, does not wish to share the wealth. He murders Brennmeyer with a knife and flees by himself, confident that the ship's automatic search-and-compare program will locate a usable star and planet for him. He leaves all the evidence for the police to find, since he is sure that they shall not be able to catch him.

He makes the jump, then waits for the computer to match a bright nearby star to its stored patterns. Much time elapses, however, without a match being found. Trent realizes, to his horror, that the star must be a recent nova, which the computer will therefore never be able to find in its maps. He is apparently unable to override the search procedure, and his life support will not last indefinitely. The story ends with Trent wishing that he had kept the knife.

The idea for the story's plot twist is clearly derived from the old wishing rhyme:

"Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight--
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight."

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