[PI] "Slower than Light" - Faster than light travel has just been mastered. A crew has been tasked with boarding & awakening the dozens of ships already enroute to colonising other planets across the galaxy and telling them they are redundant.

"And that, my friends, was the worst mission ever." Turek thunked his beer mug down onto the bar with finality. Old, annoying Christmas songs played over the bar's PA system. "End of contest." The captains clustered around him broke out in groans and arguments.

"I don't see how a Karrkat leech even appears on the list of worst missions ever," one said.

"Ha!" Turek laughed. "Go try it yourself and see!"

Some of the captains rolled their eyes or sighed as they returned to their drinks or engaged in arguments with their peers. Perhaps the impromptu 'worst run ever' contest was over. They had started swapping stories as a way to commiserate about not being home for Christmas. Not that most of them had family, or even homes other than their ships, but any excuse to brag was a welcome one.

Allans spoke up, though, "It's pretty awful, sure. But it's not the worst."

The captains turned to stare at him as he deliberately and slowly drank his beer, then quietly set it down on the bar.

"Well?" Turek said. "What has the mighty tour-boat captain got to top that?" The other captains snickered. Allans' uniform fairly sparkled, even in the dim bar, and the thought that he had ever seen a challenge on a run was laughable.

"Oh, you thought I meant me?" Allans said in false modesty? "No, no. I think you should ask Quinn."

The group turned like a single entity to look into the corner where the surly captain Quinn drank alone like he did every night. He acted like he didn't hear them. The captains looked back and forth from Quinn to Allans. Was he serious?

Allans looked at Quinn. "Ey big guy? Tell the boys what happened."

Quinn was wearing a uniform that looked like it was straight out of the colonial days. It was unwashed and unpressed. His dark hair was thick and greasy and looked like it hadn't been combed in quite a while. He didn't look up. "Don't wanna."

Turek laughed and turned back to his drink. "All sizzle and no steak, I think, Allans. Why not tell us a story about how one of your passengers got sick and threw up on your shiny white uniform." The captains laughed. "The truth is, nobody has had to deal with as much muck and filth and danger as," he raised his glass, "yours truly."

Allans just smiled slightly. "Come on, Quinn. Tell us about the Massif."

The room went quiet and eyes went wide. Again, the captains turned to stare at Quinn, this time with something like shock.

Turek gaped, but then rolled his eyes. "Come on, man. Are you telling me he went sublight or something?"

Quinn's creaky voice could barely be heard. "It took us two months just to ramp up..." A deep frown covered his features and angry tears filled his eyes. "Just to get to the right speed."

"Wait, are we talking about that generation ship from like five hundred years ago?" One of the captains asked.

Quinn looked up with fury in his eyes. "Oh, yes. The bloody Massif. Earth's finest hour." He slapped the table in anger. "We stripped everything off my ship. Made it just fuel, engines, and a cabin. It had to jump in ahead of the Massif, then full throttle for two bloody months just to get up to the same speed." He went quiet and looked back down at the table.

"Two months for you," Allans prompted.

Quinn nodded. "A full year for everyone else." He took another drink as the realization sank in among the captains. Relativity would have meant the time would seem short to Quinn, but long to those not moving at such high speeds. "Back then, we couldn't FTL straight into high relative speeds. It was still such a new technology. But we wanted to contact all the colonizers..."

Turek spoke, his voice empty of the bravado he usually carried, "But... Didn't you know going in? I mean, you must have, right?"

"Oh yes," Quinn said. "Yes, and my family knew it would be over a year before they next saw me."

One of the captains looked puzzled. "But wasn't the Massif... Wasn't it emptied over 100 years ago?"

Quinn nodded. "I was the first to go. My mission was simple: Dock, make contact, let them know more ships could come if they wanted, and give them an updated communications array so they could request it. Show them how to use it, then get the hell out of there." He took a drink. "Every hour on the Massif would be a month out here. I had to be fast."

The captains were quiet and watched Quinn trace his fingers along the wood grain at his table. At length he spoke again, "An hour was a month. Take a full day? Two years gone. They were going to pay me real good, but I wasn't going to take any more time than I had to." He sighed. "I figured I could have the comm system unloaded in 30 minutes, then teach them how to hook it up in another hour. Jump in my ship, hit the FTL and be home before Christmas.

"I docked. I made contact with the captain. They couldn't figure out why I was so jittery and angry that they were making me wait. They thought I was a miracle. The young ones were constantly around, asking so many questions. Getting in the way. I didn't see..." He wiped away a tear. "Damnit. There was something on the floor. Some stupid toy or a box or who knows what. I tripped. I hit my head on something. I don't remember what."

Quinn's voice became rough and angry. "When I woke up in their hospital, two months had passed there. TWO. MONTHS." He threw his glass across the room.

"Quinn!" Allans warned. "Easy, man!"

"So you come in here and brag about your so-called toughest ride, and then want to compare that to me? How about spending sixty years unconscious? How about panicking, running back to your ship and returning home in your hospital gown because you want to see your family in time for Christmas, only to find out that half of them are dead and the rest don't even know you any more? How about the government refusing to pay you because you never did manage to teach them how to use the comm system? How about fourty more years of being alone just because you took one single, stupid, wrong step one day?" He turned his gaze to Turek, "Yeah, I'll take your stupid leech any damn day. Which would you rather?"

Quinn stood shakily in his century old flight suit. "Here's my Christmas gift to you. The next time you feel like you got it rough, think of old Quinny and maybe you'll feel a little better." He walked out.

/r/WritingPrompts Thread