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A spaceship went awry and traveled to the far future. The few people aboard find themselves looking at a gray, steamy Earth. A landing party explores a relatively cool region (Alaska?) and finds it covered with a silicon- and metal-based ecology with plant and animal equivalents. The POV shifts back and forth between the landing party and an intelligent humanoid machine living with his wife in a cave. She spends most of her time in the cave building their child from parts that he forages from the mechanical forest, though some parts they have to make/grow(?) themselves. The landing party encounters them, at first it's rough and the mechanical man defends his wife, and then they come to some sort of understanding and the landing party leaves. The humans speculate that after a nuclear war, autonomous, self-reproducing mining machines may have mutated. One of the humans says of the Earth, "It isn't ours anymore," as they leave for another stellar system in the repaired spaceship.

This is an English-language short story in an anthology, read probably in the 1960s or 70s, or 80s at the latest.

marked as duplicate by Organic Marble story-identification May 14 at 20:03

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18

Poul Anderson, "Epilogue"

It starts:

His name was a set of radio pulses. Converted into equivalent sound waves, it would have been an ugly squawk; so because he, like any consciousness, was the center of his own coordinate system, let him be called Zero.

He was out hunting that day. Energy reserves were low in the cave. The other one who may be called One - being the most important dweller in Zero's universe - had not complained.

It ends:

Frederika wiped her eyes with hands that left streaks of dirt in the tears. "Do you think we'll ever come back?" she wondered.

"No," he said. "It isn't ours anymore."

Suggested (but never accepted) as an answer to these old questions:

Accepted (via comment only) as an answer to these old questions:

  • 3
    The story must leave a distinct impression if that many folks are still thinking about it six decades later! – Cory Klein May 14 at 18:10
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    I first read this in the 1980s, and at least once or twice since then. I recognized the plot right away, but I'd forgotten it was one of Poul Anderson's works. – Lorendiac May 14 at 18:21
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    @Lorendiac I first read it in the mid '70s in the collection "The Book of Poul Anderson". There were a lot of "Worlds of..." and "Best of..." type collections coming out around then and I was acquiring them when I could. – Organic Marble May 14 at 18:47
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    Thank you, Organic Marble, and my several predecessors! Yes, a good story is worth remembering and this is certainly one of them. Gazing over the covers in the ISFDB, I recognize Poul Anderson's collection of short stories, Time and Stars (1964). – Invisible Trihedron May 14 at 19:38

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