Five years into a long journey to a distant world, the crew of Stellar Explorer Copernicus detects a radio signal from a nearby star system. Weary from isolation and already far from home, the signal sparks a fiery debate about the nature of their mission, and how to proceed as emissaries of the human race.
The fourth vessel of the Stellar Explorer class, and first to leave our solar system, Copernicus contains over 5,000 capable men and women on a mission to establish an outpost on the first Earth-like world found in a nearby star system . On their journey, they are isolated in an artificial world with almost no contact home for years on end, and no guarantee of return. Their only hope and reward is to find a living, breathing planet where humans can live outdoors. Built by a consortium of corporate and government entities spanning the entire solar system, Copernicus represents nearly a century of mammoth investment and research. Equipped with a powerful Faster Than Light drive, the journey itself is expected to take more than seven years. Each crew member has volunteered decades of their lives on what could be a one-way mission.
To support her crew and mission, Copernicus contains all the necessary equipment and capabilities to build a self-sufficient community on a new world, far away from Earth. Joining them on their journey is a small army of humanoid robots controlled by The Forum, a collection of artificially intelligent entities that help govern their community and Copernicus itself. Maintaining a starship of this size proves far more difficult than imagined. They have faced perilous accidents which claimed the lives of people very close to them. Even with such a large crew, the loss of any one person takes its toll personally and professionally. They can manufacture and repair major components of the ship itself, but people are not easily replaced.
Then out of the silence, a massive radio spike is detected from another star in the local vicinity. It appears to be artificial in origin, and its source is within range of their vessel. Copernicus has the means to investigate the signal, and complete their mission, but by doing so would they would eliminate the possibility of returning home to Earth. The crew must decide whether they should risk their lives and the mission for the chance to meet a possible alien intelligence in a nearby system.
The decision creates havoc among the crew. Many would rather go on to their final destination and leave the signal alone. While most agree that the signal is important enough to risk a detour, especially if it means the possibility of discovering intelligent life nearby, there is great concern for their own well-being and safety. For all it’s impressive capabilities, Copernicus is an unarmed exploration vessel. Many on board insist that they should prepare to defend themselves on the chance that this new species could be malevolent. And for those who wish to meet this new species, as emissaries of the human race, the question arises about how to communicate with beings totally alien to our own experience.