August 22nd, 2347
Well, as you may have guessed, today is my 40th birthday. Whoop-de-do. As each year together passes, I look older and older and my fellow crewmates look exactly the same. Even though Mike is much older than me, I now look like I’m almost twice his age. I know, I know, if I was really that concerned about it, I had the same chance as everyone else did for life extension treatments. That’s not what happened though, and frankly I don’t regret it.
In a true feat of covert operations, the rest of the crew managed to plan – and keep secret – a surprise party for me. Though, when you really think about it, how surprising was it really when we use any excuse whatsoever to get inebriated these days? The answer is ‘Not very’.
How to lure me in though? Their answer to this was to not even wait for me to come to the party. I was sitting in my cabin this afternoon trying to enjoy a cup of tea when, without a single sound, a black hood was draped over my head from behind and three sets of hands lifted me out of my chaise and started carrying me somewhere.
I could tell who was carrying me from the way they were carrying me: The short one at my feet was obviously Mike, the tall one at my right shoulder was Jean-Marie, and the dainty-but-incredibly-strong hands at my left shoulder were just as obviously Theresa’s. They didn’t make a sound as they carried me out of my room and into the corridor. The ship really isn’t that big, so I knew pretty much exactly where we were going from judging how far they had carried me (and the fact that we didn’t go up or down any ladders, thankfully).
When we arrived at what I knew to be Observation, they set me down on my feet, and then sat me down on a crate. The smell of burning turnip leaf was in the air.
The hood was taken off me, and before my eyes could adjust, a joint was placed between my lips and a bulb of vodka and juice de arándano in my hand. When my eyes finally adjusted, I saw Mike, Robert, Jean-Marie and Theresa in an arc in front of me, all of them standing save Robert, who was of course in his hoverchair.
God must have been hearing my prayers at that point, because there was mercifully no singing or shouting of ‘surprise!’. Instead, Theresa simply smiled widely and said “Happy Birthday, Aric.”
And then they were all smiling and wishing me a Happy Birthday and Happy 40th, shaking my hand and patting me on the shoulder.
For the first time in our entire five-plus-year trip, I felt like part of the family. A warm feeling spread through me and I couldn’t help smiling in return, my teeth clamped around the turnip-leaf cigarette. In fact, it was just about all I could do to ward off the tears. I was seriously touched by their gesture.
Thankfully, Mike can always be counted on to break the spell, and this time was no exception. “Enough gushing over the Doctor,” he said, “We don’t want to congratulate him too much for continuing to survive the breakdown of his body.” He smiled when he said it, but I could tell he meant what he said.
After that, you could say the party commenced, the three standing people taking a seat as I puffed and then passed the cigarette. When we had finished, Jean-Marie got up to distribute bulbs to everyone else, after which he rejoined us and produced another joint.
As we were nearing the end of our second session, there was a lull in the conversation. Robert seemed to take this as his queue, and, clearing his throat, he said “Well, Aric, we do have a present for you. It’s not much, but it’s what we’ve got.” He raised his eyebrows at Mike, who, in return, gave the ‘go ahead’ hand signal. “Misha and I have been going over the navigation data together. While I still can’t make any sense out of the stars around us, we will be entering the Centauri system in October. I’m pleased so say we have located Alpha Prime, and we can now calculate our approach angle and thus our landing day. This far away, we have a wide window of options, and we thought we’d let you choose our landing day for your birthday. It is, after all, your survey.”
“Wow, really?” I asked. This was quite an honor, seeing as the day we first step foot on another Earth-like world will be an historic occasion, and the date will be remembered for the rest of human history. “Thanks, you two, that’s really nice of you.” I thought for a couple seconds. “When’s the earliest we could land?”
“If we don’t run into any more surprises, as early as April 27th,” Mike said.
“Before LD6?” I asked, “Our trip could take less than six years? That’s great, seeing as we thought we wouldn’t be landing for another year.”
“If that’s what you decide,” Robert said with a smile.
I didn’t have to think too long. “Would it be too trite if we landed on LD6?” I asked the group.
“I don’t think so,” Theresa said.
“I rather like the symmetry, actually,” Mike said.
“That’s what I was thinking too,” I said. “Well, if no one objects, I say we make this voyage a nice, round six years to the day.” I looked around the small room at my crewmates and saw no signs of dissent.
“Very well,” Mike said, “Launch Day 6 will now be known as Landing Day 1. I’d say it’s time to start studying, Aric.”
Yes, I guess it’s time for me to start refreshing my addled 40-year-old brain and flexing my 40-year-old muscles. As difficult as this trip may have been on me, the fact remains that now my real work begins. It’s time for me to take off the doctor’s smock and put on the scientist’s apron. This is what I’ve been waiting over five years for.
So why am I suddenly filled with anxiety at the thought?