Author: Christopher DePree

The probe was named Starchip. This marvel of miniaturization contained cameras, a battery and processors, and only weighed a few grams. Several of the wealthiest people on Earth had funded the tiny trillion-dollar spacecraft whose ambitious task was to sail to the nearest star.

On the Vernal Equinox of 2030, it was accelerated to 20% of the speed of light with the focused energy of an enormous laser on the surface of Earth. Rolling brownouts in Florida almost scuttled the launch. It would take 21 years to travel to Proxima Centauri, and 4 years for the first images to come back. The Green Bank Telescope would receive the signals.

Starchip was one light year away when the first radio signal reached the Green Bank Telescope in 2036. Its signal carried an image of the Sun seen from interstellar space, one tiny point among thousands. In the press release images, the Sun was circled in blue for emphasis. India and China were at war.

In 2048, when the second signal reached Earth, the miniature probe was 3 light years away from the Sun. It sent an image of Proxima Centauri, its target. The US had collapsed into smaller nation states, and West Virginia was part of the Appalachian Coalition. The Green Bank Telescope could no longer steer. Most of its internal electronics had been scavenged. Bullet holes dotted the 110-meter dish.

The first radio waves bearing images of an ocean-covered planet orbiting Proxima Centauri from Starchip washed over the campfire-dotted mountains of West Virginia in 2055. The Green Bank Telescope lay partially collapsed, its supporting beams jutting like the stripped ribs of a great beast.