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What will I find when I return home?
The asteroids whizz past. My heart is empty.
In my subjective experience, this mission has lasted ten years and two hundred and seventy days. That is a total of three thousand, nine hundred and twenty-three days. I was thirty-seven years and fifteen days old, when this mission launched. The voyage is in its final phase, the slingshot round the outer planet complete.
Soon I will be home. Soon the grand mission will be over. All the data I have collected, and all the samples I took, will be unloaded, downloaded, digitally rendered and made available to the scientific community. They will be put into storage, and occasionally pieces will be shaved off, and prodded, poked, burned, dissolved, and irradiated in laboratories for decades to come. The endless process of science, man's great journey towards that ultimate goal of perfect knowledge of everything will be advanced to a shocking degree. I will be feted, invited onto talk shows, have serious articles written about me in scientific magazines and sunday supplements, and not-so-serious ones will be shown on television. My mission, and my career, will be a resounding success.
When I land, I will be thirty-eight years and two hundred and eighty-five days old, according to the passage of time as I perceived it.
Due to the effects of relativity, it will be fifty-four years and one hundred and sixty-one days since I was born. How old will that make me, I wonder? The question is a familiar one; many philosophers, psychologists, writers and others have speculated about this issue, and debated, to greater and lesser degrees of profundity, the effect that it would have on a man like me. I am privileged; I am an historic figure. When the effects of near lightspeed travel on time are explained to children, it is my life they shall use as an example. I will remain unique in this situation; for a number of reasons, no mission such as mine will be carried out again for quite some time.
Another person in a unique situation, is my wife.
We have been apart for a long time, but she has had longer to wait than me. I am Peter Pan, returned to Wendy's window, to find that she is ever so much older than twenty. She was younger than me, the naive foreign postgraduate marrying the glamorous all-american pilot. My country, to her, was fresh, and exciting. I showed it to her, and through her enthusiasm and her pure joy of living, I was made young.
Now, it shall be her turn to teach me something new. As far as I know, she is waiting, and she is well. Two years ago (my time), radio contact was re-established on schedule.I have had conversations with her and others. Due to the time-delay, they have taken months to reach me. it was even longer for her. But she is well. Our son, deliberately conceived in the months before I left, is doing well at school, and looks like me, so she says. No pictures have been sent. None are allowed.
She looks forward to my return. As do I. Even knowing what I do.
Five years, (earth time) after I left on the mission, contact was made with the Skarin.