Five billion kilometers from Earth, Ishtar hurtled through the abyss, her antimatter reactor burning with the relentless energy of a miniature star, her lidar arrays sweeping the frozen darkness ahead, her astrogation systems parsing terabytes of positional data each fraction of a second. For long, lightless years she had traversed the desolate void, heeding a faint voice from the other end of the Solar System, racing toward a black enigma at the very edge of interstellar space. Closer and closer now; the strobing lasers plucked a signal out of the nothingness. An impulse raced through Ishtar’s artificial neural network. The…

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