The matte funnel-shaped device sat dead out in front of the ship while it’s backdrop of stars spun around and around. The ship was spinning up for jump gyro-stabilisation. Putting the spin on the ship was the only way of keeping the course at FTL speed reasonably straight. The slightest discrepancy in mass had lead to the early Hoppers being flung wildly off their path, tumbling and tearing themselves apart. It was far more reliable to rifle the ship for handling the unpredictable gravitational eddies that buffeted the ships protective field as it hit midpoint.

The rest of the crew had all headed off to their duty stations now, or secured themselves for flight. A few hours ago the observation deck had been packed in nervous silence as the updates had trickled over the intercom. People were attentive as one of the Pinches had been unloaded from the rack, and watched with silent fear as it had been fuelled up with antimatter. The SS Boseman had been lost that way; a slight fluctuation in the magnetic containment of the transfer line. A single atom tearing the line open, obliterating the ship. The “Black Bit” quantum-entanglement data feed told mission control everything.

At one point the ensign had halted his words for a second, and the whole room had bodily stiffened to a fearful acceptance that death was an instant away.

But now it was out there. In a few minutes time the antimatter would annihilate with it’s matter half, destroying the intensely charged field coils and creating a precisely focussed funnel of gravitational energy, pulling two distant points in space together for a few seconds.

Hundreds of sensors had us placed to within fractions of a millimetre of our set distance from the Pinch device. Close enough to be pulled into the correct portion of the gradient, far enough away not to be destroyed by the radiation blast or it’s monatomic debris. If the dispersing field around the ship didn’t fail, it would still overload at the other end, with the rhythmic popping of capacitor banks being jettisoned before they too exploded. And with luck we would find ourselves within 5 Au of our destination, still with enough time to correct for insertion into the target star-system. If not, then we’d have to pick another system and try another Hop. These things don’t work for short journeys yet.

Hopping so far in an instant only to spend the following couple of years coasting on the final leg seems an insult to some. Trust me that you need that rest to regain your witts. But it’s still a better option than spending an extra 70 years coming the scenic route, or arriving too close to correct your delta-V and passing right past your target.

The blast shields are closing. Next the forward 30 decks will be evacuated of personnel and air. The magic time’s coming up fast now. Wish us luck!

In the Epsilon sector is an A5 graded relic (little further analysis possible), the Engraved Moon.

A fairly unremarkable natural low-gravity satellite, the moon is tidally locked with it’s volcanic partner planet. It shows signs of some exploration, but little evidence remains. The vast proportion of the relic is in it’s planet-ward face, almost the entirety of which is covered with a massive laser-engraved image. The image itself is hard to decipher, but seems to show two unknown life forms interacting, with a background of non-sentient flora. It has been compared to the late Baroque style of Earth.

The significance of the image is unknown. For one matter, it is unfinished; the raster-rendering halting in the south-west corner with some small smearing that suggests violent interruption of the process. This is further supported by evidence of orbital gun platforms around the nearby planet, in the form of radio-actives and vaporised superconductors in defuse orbits of the Lagrange points.

There is also damage to the image from asteroidal impacts, determined through standard isotope scans to have originated from the cataclysmic impact of a larger asteroid with the primary planet some 700,000 years ago.

The core of the most popular theories is that the planet previously held a circa Class-0.7 civilisation that was in conflict with other members of it’s own race, which necessitated the construction of orbital weapons platforms. These platforms were re-purposed to try to deflect or destroy a ELE-grade asteroid, but were incapable of successfully doing so. The theory goes that realising there was no hope, one of the platforms was turned toward their moon to leave a lasting marker of the races existence by raster-engraving an image on it’s surface.

If this was indeed the case, it was a success as the impact sufficiently heated the planets crust as to initiate a new perpetual volcanic state. The entire surface is estimated to now fully renew itself every 4 standard years. No trace of former life on the surface has ever been found, nor is ever likely to be.

While of no remaining archaeological interest, the system does see infrequent tourist traffic. An extension of the theory has entered popular myth, embellishing it as a monument not to the civilisation, but as a final romantic act of a couple working on one of the gun platforms. The most consistent version sees the couple realising that death is at hand, and over-riding the useless firing attempts of the platform to immortalise themselves together, often dying in each-others “arms” as depicted in the image, as debris wipes out the platform.

This is of course massive assumption. The two figures could equally be locked in a final death-struggle; no other record of the race, it’s cultures or biology remains. But that it might be true is often more than enough for the die-hard romantics who take the long cruise out to see the Engraved Moon.

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