On the ten year anniversary of Zhen He’slaunch, Jim Macomber retired. He smiled at the party they threw for him, but mostly he was relieved. The cajoling with Congress, the endless meetings, and, most importantly, the nail-biting stress over satellites light years away, were someone else’s problems.
“So, Jim,” Walker asked, “how are you going to spend your retirement?”
“Golf,” he grinned.
“No. Can’t stand the sport. No, I’ve got my grandkids a lot of the time, now.” He patted Alicia’s hand on his arm. “And I’m going to just enjoy. Catch up on my reading. There’s a lot of good sci-fi out there.”
“Not as good as the real thing, though,” Peterson said with his characteristic scowl.
“That’s the fun, at least for me. I get to lose myself in it instead of worry about logistics and funding. That’s someone else’s problem, now.”
Nina Elsbeth sighed. “Speaking of which. . . .”
“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Jim smiled.
“You’re not out of this yet, old man,” she grinned.
She set aside her drink, then went to the front of the conference room.
“What did she mean by that?”
“You’ll see,” Walker smiled into his drink.
Peterson had the exact same, smile. “Nothing less than you deserve, Jim.”
“What’s this about?” he asked his wife.
“No idea, dear.”
“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” Nina said.
After a few moments, the din of the room subsided, all eyes on Nina.
“Thank you. We are here to honor Jim Macomber, the pioneer who helped us realize the dream of faster-than-light exploration. We have expanded our reach beyond our solar system, though we don’t fully understand how everything works, yet. But we’ve got one more way to honor Jim before he leaves for retirement.”
Nina touched the screen on the wall, which flared to life and displayed a large animation of a probe with sails. The animation showed its projected mission out of the solar system to target Alpha Centauri.
“I’ve just gotten budgetary approval for our latest probe, an exploration of Alpha Centauri. This will be our largest probe ever built, with an expected mission duration of twenty years to survey the entire star system.”
Applause erupted and some cheers, but Nina held up her hands for more quiet.
“It gets better. We’ve gotten approval for the name.” It flashed up on the screen now, with Nina reading it out. “The James Macomber Deep Space probe!”
More applause and cheers, and Jim felt a tightness in his chest. He smiled and sniffed as tears rolled down his cheeks.