Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Carter sat on a long low bench in the middle of the observatory and stared out into deep space. He hunted the blackness for a fleck of light, then watched it hawklike, trying to gauge its position relative to the edge of the viewport to see if it, or rather they, were moving.
“Happy New Year”, Jess appeared in his peripheral vision, an alloy mug in both hands, grinning.
“I wonder if these are really windows at all,” Carter spoke, not looking up, “I sometimes think they’re just projections, and the computer puts things on them to keep us from going insane with all the emptiness that’s really out there.” He gestured in the general direction of the window, half-heartedly.
“You’re a cheerful bugger, aren’t you?” Jess handed him one of the mugs and stood with her own outstretched toward him. “Cheers!”
Carter looked from the mug he was now holding, to hers, then up to her smiling face.
“Why are we still celebrating some arbitrary timescale based on the orbit of a planet we haven’t seen in a hundred years around a star we haven’t seen in almost as long?”
Jess withdrew her mug and sighed.
“I mean,” Carter continued, “we may as well celebrate the rotation of the plasma cores or our rotation out of cold storage.”
“Well I, for one, celebrate my rotation out of cold storage every – damn – time.” Jess cupped the drink in both hands, shifting her weight from foot to foot absently. This wasn’t the first time Carter had gotten off on a rant about a tradition or protocol he thought was stupid or outdated.
“Listen,” Jess waited until Carter looked at her directly, “we marked the first twenty years of our lives by the revolution of that planet around that star, and until we get where we’re going, that’s the calendar we’re sticking to. On a new world, with a new orbital duration around a new star, we’ll adjust, but until then, it helps out here with no visible path behind us, or ahead of us, to keep these frames of reference so that the rest of us,” she grinned, pausing to let the dig sink in, “so that the rest of us don’t lose our minds.”
Carter looked back out into space, the fleck he’d been tracking now almost gone from his field of view.
“It just seems silly, how many of these years have passed while we’ve been asleep, and how many more will pass when we sleep again?”
Jess sat down next to him, bumping him gently shoulder to shoulder.
“How many years did everyone else sleep through, before the end came?” Her tone turned solemn, “How many won’t ever get to wake up?”
She was right, and Carter knew it. Truth be told this is what he hated about these reminders, the traditions, the promises made to change, to do better, all for what?
“We’ll be asleep before the next one comes around, so let’s try to enjoy this one, while we’re here, ok?”
She raised her mug, and Carter met her halfway, the noise they made on contact some kind of permission for them to both drink.
“Happy one more revolution of the drive cores Carter.”
He laughed and bumped shoulders with her again.
“Happy one more revolution around the sun Jess, even if we’re not there to see it.”
As if on cue, a distant star crept onto the forward edge of the viewport, and they sat there in silence, sipping whiskey from alloy cups and watching as they slowly passed it by.