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Four Minute Delay

Two crew on an interplanetary exploration craft discussing the feeling of being isolated from Earth, and finally deciding that a four minute delay means nothing when it comes to email.

Colonel James Black sat down across from the ship’s physician, hands folded in his lap. “Captain asked me to chat with you.” It was a bland statement, delivered in a monotone voice.
Major Jessica Stone sighed, “Let’s be honest. She asked you three days ago. Today she ordered you to stop avoiding me, so you finally made this appointment.”
“I haven’t been avoiding you.” Now he sounded irritated. “I told her that, too.”
At least irritation was an emotion. “Colonel, the ship’s longest axis is less than four hundred and forty meters, and there are only eight of us on it. It’s obvious when any one of the crew is avoiding the other seven. The rest of us are worried about you. Not only are you our friend, but you are the chief engineer. Our lives depend on you, until we get all the way to Mars and then back to Earth.”
“I’m fine.” His voice was flat again, and his face blank.
“There are ten million kilometers of hard vacuum between us and-.”
“More than thirty three million.” His correction was flat and automatic.
“Okay, Thirty three million. You keep talking about getting out and walking home.”
“That was just a joke.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, jokes.”
“Do you regret having signed up for this?” She watched his face as she went on. “Is it the cramped conditions? The danger? The isolation?” She stopped, watching his eyes flick back and forth.
After a long silence he looked at her, “I knew it would be tough, being at the forefront. Boldly going, as it were.”
Jessica settled in her chair as Black stared at the back wall towards distant Earth. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be out here, one of an elite crew. I’ve never had a problem with being inside. In fact, I’m vaguely nervous about open spaces, unless I’m in a plane.” He patted the nearest wall like a person stroking a faithful pet. “It is tough being isolated from my family, and all my friends back home.”
“Well, for the next few years this is home, and you have friends here.” She replied.  He stared at the wall, expressionless. She shifted in her seat. “Hey, we aren’t really out of contact. We have a permanent laser link.”
“Well yes, but it only goes at the speed of light.”
She shrugged. “So it takes nearly two minutes to travel the thirty million kilometers? Do you notice?”
“That is one hundred and twelve seconds each way. Plus, it gets a little longer every day, every hour, every… You can’t avoid noticing when talking to people back there. Three minutes and forty four seconds go by between me speaking and seeing them react and answer. Talking to anyone just makes me more aware that they are so very far away, getting further, every minute.”
Jessica smiled. “Have you stopped emailing your family and friends?”
“Yes.” He frowned. “Why?”
“That is my question. It usually takes at least half an hour to get a reply to an email. If it takes another four or five minutes, is anyone going to notice?”
“Well…” He looked confused. “But, I…”
“Personally, I’ve actually made some friends since we left. I found some email lists on topics that always interested me but which I never had time for. Now I have time to spare, and so do you.”
“Well, email lists aren’t friends, are they?”
“No.” Jessica nodded. “But I’ve found people on those lists I get on with, and so I’ve emailed them off-list. Started what could be long friendships, by the time we return to Earth.”
“They’re just pretending to be your friends because you’re famous.”
Jessica stared at Colonel Black. Did he look fearful? Did he worry his friends weren’t real and true? “You don’t have… I try to avoid telling them where I am. So far none of them know I’m even on the UN Exploration Ship to Mars.” She stared at the back wall. “Talking to them, about ordinary things, gives me another piece of normality. We need chunks of ordinary life during this crazy trip down a three hundred million kilometer rabbit hole.”
Colonel Black stared at her a moment, then smiled. Jessica tried to think when she’d last seen that rather unappealing grin. “Well, I used to be interested in Japanese history. Never had the time to really study it.  Until now, I guess.” Still smiling, he stood up. “But firstHealth Fitness Articles, I should send my sister an email.” He gave her a curt nod and dashed out of the office.

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By Allan T. Price
Allan T. Price is a creative writer who normally travels even further into the future. He often involves non-human intelligences in his stories.
Allan T. Price is a creative writer working at M6.Net: ‘The web-hosting company for humans.’ M6.Net is working hard to help humanity experience the power and freedom to develop their own part of the Internet, to share their information and connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

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