Perplexed by an unearthly stranger's inexplicable appearances, Cosmologist Roger Shore is dismayed when the alien entity pointedly questions him regarding faster-than-light spacecraft development. Fascinated when his superior reluctantly reveals the existence of a covert effort to develop and implement FTL interstellar flight technology, he and a colleague are invited to lend their expertise and join the program. They become embroiled in successive, near-lethal interferences from a malicious, dedicated alien exotic. The stakes for success, Shore and his associates learn, are infinitely greater than imagined. A culture-defining benchmark, reaching the nearest stellar system, while a supreme technological triumph in itsellf, will apparently qualify humanity for inclusion in a nameless forum composed of myriad, diverse galactic intelligences.