“What’s the airlock code?”
Captain Archibald Moore’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason. You know.”
“No, I don’t. What possible reason could you have for wanting that code when we’re thousands of space-clicks from the nearest port?”
The engineer raised his hands defensively. “Hey, never mind, old man. It was just a question.” He left the bridge, shaking his head.
Captain Moore frowned. The stupid kid had no poker face. Something was up. Ever since the captain had let it slip to the onboard doctor that he was approaching seventy years old, his crew had been acting funny. Recruits in the mess hall stopped talking as soon as he passed their table. Officers gave him down-turned, pitying looks. And just yesterday, his personal secretary asked him to sign a last will and testament, “Just in case.”
All around him, their murmurings and sideways glances accosted him. Some of the young guns must not think a man so advanced in years should be in charge of this ship. The whippersnappers didn’t realize that with age came wisdom and experience.
He punched the autopilot button and heaved his creaking limbs from the seat. Better go see what the fuss was about the airlock. “Nothing I can’t handle,” he muttered, tapping his sidearm.
He stopped twice to rest on the way there. Normally, he’d press on so that no one would see how winded he was, but today, the halls seemed strangely vacant.
“Where is everyone?”
The doors to the massive airlock were shut, but on the control panel, a yellow light glowed, indicating that the outer doors were shut and the inner one unlocked. Through the square of glass in the door, Captain Moore noticed movement.
“Well, confound it. Who’d be messing around in there?” He thwacked the button, ready to ream someone out good as soon as the door slid open.
When it did, the shining faces of his crew beamed at him.
“What’s going on here?” he asked, though the streamers, balloons, and cake made it rather obvious.
“Happy birthday!” The engineer slapped him on the back.
Captain Moore balked, speechless for the first time in his long and illustrious career. “Well, I’ll be.”
The rest of the evening was spent wining and dining, feasting and dancing, and celebrating the captain’s seventy years of life. He was the life of the party and gratefully accepted their handshakes and embraces.
“Toast!” they shouted after the cake’s candles had been extinguished.
He raised his glass. “I never suspected such a wonderful surprise. It’s been a pleasure serving with all you fine people.”
“There’s one more surprise,” the XO said. “Wait here. We’ll get it.”
Captain Moore chuckled as his crew bustled out. He couldn’t even imagine what present they’d gotten him. While waiting, he re-read one of the birthday cards and took another bite of chocolate cake. He certainly had underestimated them.
The inner door hissed shut.
“Hey!” Chocolate crumbs spewed from his mouth. “What—?”
The airlock opened.
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