Earlier today I came across a post about these lovely retro-style "travel" posters created by the design studio at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs. The Jupiter poster is my favorite by far, but the "Grand Tour" poster reminded me that not long ago, I had played with creating a flash fiction story with that exact title. So I just peeked back at the story, made a few little tweaks, and present it here, just for fun.
Three weeks into the twenty-five month voyage, Stacey had to admit it to herself. It wasn't the Grand Tour she'd wanted, exactly. It was being able to say that she'd done the Grand Tour.
It had sounded so exciting: fly-bys of the Moon, Mars, Ceres, and Jupiter. Stacey remembered the fuss everyone had made when that Bobby kid returned from the first Grand Tour. He was sixteen when he'd left, but turned eighteen en route -- that was the cut-off; you had to be of legal age by journey's end. He was the first kid on a long-duration voyage, and the world treated him like a rock star.
Stacey read about the upcoming second tour. It would take longer than the first, due to orbital mechanics, whatever those were. So at not-quite-sixteen, she would be younger than Bobby when he'd left, but could still make the cut-off. She immediately started petitioning her grandparents to buy her passage. It took more than money, she knew, but Gramps was connected. That was easy, actually; getting her parents' approval was something else. But Stacey was good at getting what she wanted. She reminded them that only one other teenager had done it, so she would practically be guaranteed admission to any college on the planet when she got back.
And here she was, stuck in this tin can for the next two years. What had she been thinking? She was the only one on the ship younger than thirty-five. She'd known it was silly, but Stacey had secretly hoped for a dazzling interplanetary romance -- that really would have gotten some attention.
So yeah, this whole thing pretty much sucked.
To be fair, some of the passengers were okay. Sofia was a composer, for instance, and even though she mostly did classical stuff, she'd worked with some famous pop stars and didn't mind sharing the juicy rumors. And Gerald, a doctor, seemed happy to have Stacey onboard, even if it was only because she provided a little age variety for his research. In return for his promise of a kick-ass recommendation letter, Stacey agreed to be one of his guinea pigs.
Stacey's favorite, though, was Alina, who had a slight Russian accent and looked young enough to be Stacey's sister. Alina took Stacey seriously -- well, mostly. She did call Stacey "rich girl" but not unkindly. And she could be kind of blunt.
"You're bored? What did you expect?" Alina said. She was painting a still life of the engine room, of all things. Alina planned to capture the entire voyage in acrylics, and had been given a special weight allowance for supplies.
"I thought there would be more . . . social life," Stacey said.
Alina snorted. "There's plenty of 'social life,'" she said. "The weekly poker game . . . no, you're not ready for that. But come to our book group. We read all kinds of things, and eventually we'll let you choose the book. But maybe not Vampire Werewolves on Mars, okay?"
"Very funny," Stacey said. But she read that week's book, and the next. She was shy about venturing her opinion at first, but then she realized they all teased each other. That's what made it fun.
It wasn't enough, though. The next time Stacey and Alina had the exercise room to themselves, she asked Alina when she'd decided to become a painter.
"I didn't decide," Alina said, panting slightly. "My mother gave me paints when I was six. She said I was already a painter before that."
"But how did you know that's what you wanted to do? And why come out here? Except for the fly-bys, the scenery won't change much."
"Always the questions," Alina said, smiling. "I'm capturing the voyage, the journey. Photographs, they're not the same. I will show the world how I see it. Sofia, she captures the journey in music. Gerald pins down the science. The others, I don't know well yet. But why are you here?"
Stacey sighed. "You can't tell anyone, but I think maybe I ... just wanted the attention." It was hard to say that out loud, even to Alina.
Alina didn't laugh. "It's okay," she said. "You just find a new answer for why you're here, and make it true. Keep asking questions. We have how many months left? Before we're done, you learn every person on this ship."
"Get to know them, you mean?"
"Yes, and more. I do my portraits -- the passengers, the ship -- and Sofia does hers, her way. You will do this too -- you make a ‘portrait’ of everyone on this ship."
"But Alina, half of them won't even talk to me," Stacey protested.
"You make them talk. You find out about them ahead, then ask them good questions. They'll talk." Alina looked hard at Stacey. "Don't wish this away, rich girl. Ten years from now when you are a person, you don't want to realize you wasted this trip."
Stacey thought about that. What did Alina mean, when Stacey was a person? What was she now?
She looked up her shipmates. The communications lag back to Earth was noticeable now, but the ship had a cached version of the Net. These people had actually done some interesting stuff. Captain Tomlinson, for instance, had been the first person to set foot on Europa, before she'd left NASA for space tourism.
But maybe Stacey should start with someone less intimidating. The next morning, she poked her head into the hydroponics lab where Landers -- Alina was trying to nickname him "Sprouts" but it hadn't stuck yet -- was poking around with some seed trays. He was a kind-looking man with gray hair at the temples.
"Knock knock," Stacey said.
Landers looked up, confused until his mind switched gears. "Oh. Stacey. Can I help you?"
"I was just wondering," Stacey began. "If maybe you could tell me about your plants?"
"Sure," Landers said. He actually looked glad for the company. "C’mon in."