“I thought you were dead,” said Ali. ‘When you never called back I figured some space monster had eaten you or you got sucked into a black hole or something.” He took a drink from a bottle of microbrew beer Caleb did not recognize. “Are you going back there?”
“No,” said Caleb, “they are releasing a fleet of drones to explore it since they can gather a lot more information in a short time. It will be years, though, and we’ll be gone in another couple weeks.”
“Gone?” Ali tried to look nonchalant when he asked, but failed.
“We are leaving the system and heading –” he waved his hand vaguely “– out there. There is some sort of hub where ships converge. They are going to split us up among hundreds of vessels.”
“Split who up?”
“Us humans. The Hegemony has a huge fleet. Some ships are for exploration. Others are for trade. There are even military vessels, according to Obligolkulat.”
“How long are you going to be –” Ali waved his own hand around “– out there? Five year mission?”
Caleb shrugged. “At least a year for me but it might be longer as far you are concerned. There’s time dilation and other things that make it hard to figure out.”
“Oh,” said Ali. Changing the subject, he said, “what about your girlfriend? The accountant, not the alien.”
“Economist,” said Caleb. “I don’t know. We won’t know our assignments until we get to the hub.”
Ali made a face. “You haven’t talked to her since you got back.”
“No,” said Caleb.
Caleb stared at him across the radius of the solar system, annoyed.
“At least go see her. She said she wanted to talk before you disappeared for nine months. I am sure she has forgiven you for inviting her to an alien threesome by now.”
“Fuck you, Ali.”
“Love you, bro.”