The Song of Sqia'lon Seven, by Steve Baretsky

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The signal was really strong once you got past the outer bands. The wavelength variation and signal modulation certainly made it look like it had intelligent origins. More to the point, the pattern would complete after 22 hours, 54 minutes. The meters would be idle for about 30 seconds, then the signal would repeat. It had been repeating for more than 20 years now.

"So, you don't think it's a manufactured signal Williams?" Fisher was probably the strongest of the believers in the crew. "You think some 'natural phenomenon' is responsible for an organized signal that's been repeating for more than 20 years."

Williams was never bothered by the skepticism the other's approached his skepticism with.

"All I'm saying is that we don't know if it's from an intelligent source. All we know is that we can't explain the signal using our current knowledge of the universe. I didn't say it can't be intelligent and I didn't say it has to be natural."

"So what are you saying?" Murphy was a believer, but still, she had her doubts.

"I'm saying that we need to keep an open mind. Fisher, you're setting yourself up for huge disappointment if you're wrong. You're so fixated on meeting some fantastical alien life form that you're likely to crash and burn if it's just some crazy magnetic field phenom."

"No Williams, you're just so afraid of meeting a species more intelligent than you that you'll probably crap yourself and pass out when we finally meet them." And that's pretty much how the entire journey had gone so far.

The trip had been so uneventful that these 'discussions' were the only thing that kept the travelers from going stir crazy. The origin point of the signal was in the Sqia'lon system and that was 8.6 light years from the DarkStar station from which the mission launched. The Dual-Singularity Drive that powered the ship had been in development when the signal was first detected. Without that , the trip would have taken several thousand years to complete. The DS-Drive, however, made it possible to bend Space-Time and jump from location to location in seconds, regardless the distance.

Five years after the signal was identified and the origin located, the Star Chaser was ready to begin the first manned interstellar flight in human history. It would take several jumps to get to the mission's destination and between jumps it would take nearly 2 years (Earth years) to recharge the power cells to make the next jump. The solar arrays were very efficient, but the distance to various stars along the way would make the recharge a maddeningly slow process. Still, 15 years to travel to a star system 8.6 light years distant wasn't too bad.

"Gravitational generator activated. Primary Objective development has begun." Williams was at the engineering station. "Anchor established, Secondary Objective generating."

"Telemetry established." Murphy watched her screen intently. "Dilation in 3 seconds. 2. 1. Dila..." As always, the final countdown was cut short as the crew and ship were drawn forward by the phenomenal forces of the two artificially generated black holes that gave the Dual Singularity Drive its name.

Time became meaningless to everyone aboard the Star Chaser. Although the jump took only a few seconds the way the humans that crewed the ship normally measured time, for them the jump stretched to near infinity. It had taken years to develop the mental discipline required for them to wrap themselves in a blanket of self and hold tight until the jump was complete. Once out of the jump, the time dilation normalized and the reality that they had only been 'gone' a few seconds would settle in and the crew would begin the process of recovering from jump fatigue. Then the 'discussions' would start up again.

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