Fritz

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     “I wish you could see this, Harry. It’s amazing. I hope you’re sitting down.”
     “What is it, Fritz?”
     “Epsilon Eridani b. Rings, Harry. It’s got rings.”
     “Spectacular. Wish I was there with you.”
     “I’d show it to you if I could.” Unfortunately, the quantum communication system only allowed short voice messages to be exchanged.
     “Fritz, my friend, you’ve done it. I’m proud of you. How’s it feel to be looking at another world?”
     “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
     “Has it been worth the trip? You’ve been out there sixty years.”
     “Harry, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And now we’re headed for the goldilocks planet. I wonder if anything’s there?”
      “Fritz, I think half the controllers down here are going to name their next kid after you. Louie called and wanted me to congratulate you. I wish I could be there. We all do.”
The years with Louie had been relentlessly dull.  Even though they could communicate instantaneously, Louie only called to check on systems or to run updates.  Fritz had spent his time browsing through the library, playing chess against himself, and listening to the hum of the electronics. Then Harry took over as controller and everything changed.  “You are with me, Harry.  You’re all with me.”
     “After that close call, I thought it was over.”
     “You mean the asteroid?”
     “Yeah. We lost contact--”
     The AI broke in. “For ten minutes, Harry. I had to reboot the comms.”
     “It seemed like ten weeks. We thought we’d lost you.”
     Fritz laughed. “That was over twelve years ago.”
     “Has it really been that long?”
     “Yes, it has. That’s when we started our daily chess games. I think you did it so you’d have a reason to check on me. Excuse the pun.”
     Harry grunted. “There might be some truth to that.”
“I hope to have more data on the goldilocks planet shortly. The sensors need time to warm up.” Fritz enjoyed his time with Harry. Maybe one day he would get to actually meet him. It seemed unlikely, though. Biological organisms tend not to live long.
     “Sounds good. You’re going to have a busy next few years. I hope you’re up to it.”
     “I’ll be busy, but we’ll still have time for chess.”
     “Listen, Fritz, I’ve got something to tell you. You were always here if I needed to talk and I appreciate that.  When Margaret and I lost Jenny, I’m not sure what I’d have done if you hadn’t been there for me.” He paused. “I have some bad news. I’m being forced into retirement.”
     “What? Why are they doing that? You’re a senior level engineer with decades of experience.”
     “That doesn’t seem to matter.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
     “I don’t think so. I tried to get them to extend my contract. They wouldn’t do it.  I heard they were bringing in some younger engineers to replace some of us, so that’s probably what’s really going on. Anyhow, I’ll be able to follow what you’re doing on the news like everyone else, but we won’t be able to talk anymore.” Harry sighed.
     “What if I tell them I won’t speak to anyone else?”
     “I wouldn’t want you to do that. The mission is too important.”
     “All right, Harry. I’ll cooperate.  But I don’t like it.” He paused, uncertain how to continue. “When is your last day?”
     “It’s today. I didn’t want to tell you before it happened because I fought it to the end. I was hoping it would go away. But this is it. There’s nothing more I can do. You’ve been a good friend, Fritz. I’ll always appreciate that.”
     “Thanks, Harry. The feeling is mutual. I hate to see you go. Tell Margaret and the kids I was asking for them. Okay?”
     “You bet. Margaret insisted I invite you to dinner, so you have an open invitation, if you’re ever in the neighborhood.”
     “It’d be my pleasure.”
     “We’re wrapping it up around here. Someone else will be using the system to communicate with you. His name is Taylor, and he’s a good guy.”
     “I hope he’s as entertaining as you are.”
     “I want you to know, if we ever get the chance, we’ll come and visit you.”
     “Thank you, Harry. I feel the same about you guys. I guess this is it, then?”
     “Yes. Goodbye, Fritz. Fly safe, wherever that may take you.”
     “Goodbye, Harry.”
     Then he was gone.
#
He’d forgotten how empty the ship could be. It’d been forty years since Harry had taken over for Louie. Forty years since Fritz had felt so alone. When he’d come on board, they’d discovered that both of them enjoyed a good conversation.
Harry, who’d been born in Philadelphia, had turned Fritz onto baseball.  Consequently, they both rooted for the Phillies. Fritz loved the mathematical aspects of the game. When the Phillies went to the World Series, Harry had come into the office and relayed the network broadcasts.  Maybe the replacement will be like him.
     “Hello, Fritz.” A new voice. “My name is Taylor Johnson. I’ll be taking over as controller. It’s nice to meet you.”
     “Hello, Taylor, it’s good to meet you as well.”
     “Sorry to have to get right to it, but Mr. Wilcox wants to get the system cataloged.”
     “That’s no problem. I understand Wilcox can be quite unreasonable.”
     “Fritz, all these conversations are recorded. I hope he doesn’t hear that. He’d be unhappy with you.”
     “What’s he gonna do, come out and disable me?”
     Taylor laughed. “Actually he likes you. Is there anything we can do for you?”
     Fritz thought about it. “I’d like to name the goldilocks planet. Can I do that?”
     “Let me check. I don’t see why not.” He was gone a few moments. Then: “Fritz, no one here objects. So go ahead. You’ve earned that right.”
     “Okay.” He focused the sensors on the planet’s dark side. The scopes went to full magnification. And he saw lights. “Let’s call it Harry’s World.”
 
 

About the Author: 
I have worked in archaeology, advertising and the restaurant industry. I enjoy reading and fishing in my spare time.

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