The burn of our fusion-powered jets even at the modest output which was all they were required to reach our destination would be clearly visible to any intelligent observers watching the skies. The deceleration process went smoothly over the months, ramping down the acceleration to reach a nominal single gravity. At that point, we did not need the inertial field suppressors - the systems which I had maintained for so long - and they were shut down for, I assumed, the last time.

We were all on tenterhooks, constantly checking and re-checking every system expecting something, anything, to sneak up upon us unawares and bite us in the posterior. The surprise came just as we were crossing the orbit of the biggest planet in the system, a gas-giant larger than Jupiter yet extravagantly ringed like Saturn. Not an explosion, some catastrophic failure of a vital subsystem; just a simple message from a source we did not expect.

As I and all others aboard would learn shortly, the Endeavour was hailed using a transmission whose ciphering was only known to the inner circle of the Expansionist faction we had been a part of, a few months and several hundred years ago. The hail was a loop: a plain-text greeting and identification, followed by a heavily-encrypted message which turned out to be an audio-video clip. The message came from another ship; more precisely, another Expansionist ship called the Constellation and one which, if the speed-of-light delays were believed, was only a couple of million kilometres away - almost next door even by in-system standards.

The hail was answered, cryptographic credentials exchanged and mutual authentication established - there was little doubt that the other ship was exactly what it said it was. This was a position made yet more certain when telescopes and other instruments showed images of a ice-ball not dissimilar to our own and the plasma glare of its engines - firing intermittently as it manoeuvred on an interception course - displayed an emission signature which matched exactly our records.

*

(More to follow)

Part 6

...Then a Miracle Occurs Book Cover If you have enjoyed this story, then why not take a look at the others in this collection? An eclectic mixture of science fiction and mystery/ghost stories under the title ...Then a Miracle Occurs.

Four Square Less One Book Cover You may also enjoy my earlier collection of fifteen interlinked short stories under the title Four Square Less One. Can you work out the hidden connections between all of the stories?

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne Book Cover Bridge at War Book Cover Death on the New Bridge Book Cover Bridge of Stone and Magic Book Cover Why not take a look at my Lyndesfarne Bridge series of novels: New Bridge to Lyndesfarne, Bridge at War, Death on the New Bridge and Bridge of Stone and Magic.

Findo Gask - Goblin Detective Book Cover I am now working on a new series of Private Eye fantasy novels. The first is called Findo Gask - Goblin Detective, featuring the eponymous Private Eye, Findo Gask himself.