It had been a long time by any measure. But of course, the measure was the whole point.
Max was awake and returning to Earth.
He’d spent the bulk of the journey in a state of minmet. Even so, his stretches of wakefulness totaled more than four years subjective. Four years, five weeks, two days, and almost seventeen hours. And counting.
He headed to the galley while the systems cycled up. After the first few minimal metabolic deep thaws he’d found the coffee did more to get him going again than the stims. He closed his eyes and rode the aroma for a long, wonderful minute.
In addition to being four years older than when he’d departed, he was a couple inches taller and his eyeballs were a little deformed, compliments of the low gravity during coasting. His dark brown skin had dulled toward gray, and his veins were a bright, almost neon blue, clearly visible and alarmingly plump. He was wrinkled all over like he’d fallen asleep in a sauna. Symptoms of the minmet cocktail. They were supposed to wear off after a couple weeks, but no one had ever been in cryo for so long, so it was hard to know for sure.
The headlines labeled him the Centauri Man before he’d departed, and indeed he’d felt the warmth of those other suns. Seen the oceans of their worlds and the shapes of their alien constellations. He wondered what the headlines would say now. Were there still headlines?
A lot can change in 87 years.
He’d averaged .05c, but achieved much greater in the middle stretches. Now he aerobraked against the photons of the home star, pelting 33 kilometers of light sail like warm raindrops.
The comms system bleeped to life and Max opened his eyes. He sipped his coffee and established a link with Earth.
“So, what’d I miss?”