Blue Shift

by Andrew Gudgel © 2003

I love you, baby. Even though I tell you every daily update, since it's your birthday today, I especially wanted you to know. Also because today's my anniversary aboard this ship...this prison...this hell-hole...this flying coffin... Sorry, I wandered away for a second. Been happening a lot lately. Anyway, I have your picture here, on the panel right beside the camera, so that when I look into the lens, I'm looking at you too. The birthday girl is as beautiful as ever. You haven't aged a day.

I wish we could really talk, instead of me just blindly firing off monologues, but the time lag is just so long now. Too bad, because I've got a birthday surprise for you. Notice anything different about me? No fair teasing about the gray hair. No, look again. I've been working out, and I've reprogrammed the life support computer to give me an increased calcium and high-protein diet. Have to replace the muscle and bone I've lost after all this time in freefall, because I'm coming back home. Yes, that's right! How about that for a birthday surprise?

I can imagine the look on your face - quit worrying. Nothing's wrong. I just want to see where you' see you again. I miss you. Lately I've been receiving ten updates a day from Earth. They're supposed to come twenty-four hours apart, so the time dilation factor has reached ten. Ten of your days to each one of mine. That was weighing on my mind when I got your Valentine's day transmission. You were absolutely beautiful. When I realized that the laser pulses of your message, flying faster than I ever could, had still taken so long to get here, I cried and cried - for the better part of a day. Then something snapped and suddenly I wanted to be home worse than anything in the world. I'm not sure why they need a human on this mission anyway, since the damn ship almost flies itself and there's only one tiny porthole and the food is like chewing clay and I've read every book a million times and it's so quiet except for the ventilation system and...Sorry, wandered away again for a second. I spent a lot of time in the past week running simulations on how to decelerate and turn the ship around. Most of 'em didn't work. They'd either cause the ship to break up or would've shot me right on past the whole solar system. So I gave the navigational computer an entirely different set of parameters to chew on. Yesterday it spat out a flight plan. Even though the computer says it has "significant risk of loss to crew and vehicle," and I had to override the interlocks just to program it in, I'm going to use it anyway. Because it'll bring me home to you.

I imagine that right now you're telling me I shouldn't give up my dream. Too late. Yes, I know that being the first astronaut to another habitable solar system was my dream. Not anymore. Maybe this is some sort of mid-life crisis - I don't know. What I do know is that I made the biggest mistake of my life when I left you to climb into this ship. I hurt you and I didn't understand at the time why you took it so calmly. I do now. You had a choice. Lose me to the dream and still have us - or make me stay. And you knew that staying wouldn't just kill my dream - it'd kill us too, eventually. You were so smart and so brave and I love you for it. Now my dream is gone, and all I want is you.

Did I mention that with the new flight plan, there'll be a whole week as the ship turns around where the time dilation factor will drop to zero and we'll be in the same relativistic frame? For the first time in a while, only distance keeping us apart! At the end of the week I'll re-ignite the main engine. Then straight on for home and into your arms. When I get back, we're going to sit together and talk and I'm going to sing you all the songs you loved and tell you poems and put flowers on your...Sorry, wandered away for a second. Let's just say I'm looking forward to getting home.

Pretty soon you won't be able to hear me anymore. Traveling away from Earth creates a red-shift, so the laser receiver system at your end is only designed to detect pulses shifted down towards the low end of the spectrum. Once the ship gets turned around and back up to speed, the color shift will flip from red to blue. The frequency of my laser pulses will jump up past ultraviolet and go right off the top of the receiver's scale. I'll still send you a message everyday, just like always - even if you can't hear it.

Well I hate to go, but the computer is telling me it's time to begin the first deceleration burn. Got things to do if I want to see you again. I love you, Amelia. Happy Birthday. Adjusting for time dilation, you would have been one hundred and forty-six today. Don't worry baby, I'll be home to see you just as soon as I can.

x x x

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