Colonel George Wetzell, U. S. Space Command, sat beside General Tyndall Slocraft in the back seat of the unmarked staff car. The General laid his hand lightly on Wetzell's arm.
"God how I envy you, George. Why couldn't I be twenty years younger and in my prime like you, instead of a desk-bound, pseudo-politician Space Command C.I.C! I'd gladly give up these four stars and make the sacrifice you're going to make if only I could."
"Yes, sir," Wetzell chuckled. "You and a thousand others! I'm the luckiest man in the world for having the opportunity to make this trip. But your role, General, was what got us this far--lobbying Congress to send a manned craft instead of another probe. Hopefully the data I can transmit back to you and The Program will convince Congress to continue The Program far into the future." What Wetzell didn't say was that his trip there was projected to take 90 years or more, and that he was likely to be little more than a pile of space dust by the time his craft arrived.
Wetzell's position was primarily symbolic: He was to be the first Earthman to man an ion-plasma craft out toward the nearest star system. Even though he would spend some time in suspended animation, he would still be a very old man when he reached his destination--if he reached it alive. Once there, his propulsion plant would be depleted, so he would die in some lonely orbit light years from Earth.
He was thankful that his farewells had been only to a few family members and close friends. He had never married, so wouldn't be leaving a grieving widow or children behind.
The staff car swerved to miss something in the road, rousting Wetzell out of his revere. The vehicle's headlights glared off a road sign informing them they were almost there. They could just barely see the dim glimmerings of light from the super-secret launch position.
"Thanks again, sir, for bending security procedures and allowing me to travel by car from Headquarters to launch site. I always did enjoy driving down lonely back roads--and this will be the last one I'll ever see."
General Slocraft made a soft sound deep in his throat as he replied:
"You're wrong there, George. This is your penultimate road trip. The last highway you'll travel is 'way out there--the one that will take you to the stars!"