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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Happy Birthday

Sara Thustra is yet another liberal arts graduate obsessed with science and all the possible futures it entails.

"Now you stop it," snapped the sister. "You sit there and you smile and you tell him you miss him, damn you. Space exploration is a hard job, and one we should be proud of. It's not his fault this seems so often to us."
The camera came on. The warble of great distance and stranger forces, too, played with the image. The man it showed was quite old, and dressed in a uniform from decades ago. "...Sally?" he said hesitantly.
"We're here, papa!" she chirped. "Happy Birthday!"
His children all erupted in a cheerful babble of birthday wishes, very adult in its forcedness. They took out a little cake from the fridge, and tried not to look at it, since he couldn't eat it and none of them would either. Sally passed out hats, which they all put on mechanically. He told them how much he loved them and missed them, his simple geriatric honesty contrasting their labored responses. Someone asked how life was orbiting the antimatter cloud; he said fine, fine. Someone else bravely asked about any interesting samples this year, but he didn't seem to feel like talking about it, and everyone looked grateful. He asked them for news; they had none. After a few minutes more, they severed the connection.
Sally kept her cheerfulness on at first: "Well, he looks good!"
One of the brothers sighed heavily. "Yeah. Well, um... I gotta go. See you guys?"
"Tomorrow," agreed another brother wearily. "When he'll be a year older... again."
Sally's eyes flashed. "And you ungrateful sots had better be here!"
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Author Comments

I wanted to write a personal view of space exploration as a common career, perhaps to resurrect the idea in the wake of NASA's shuttle-shutdowns; and also to remind potential explorers (and their support crews at home) that there's still so much more out there, so many possibilities we haven't even begun to understand. Hence, in my story, an explorer is orbiting something we've never been close to before--an antimatter cloud--and experiencing an effect we've never seen before either--reverse time-dilation--while his family struggles to provide him the peace and normalcy that all pioneers crave at times. Oh yes, and I wanted to do it all in as few words as possible, just to see if I could.

- Sara Thustra
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