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The Ansible Light

Chloe Smith teaches middle-school English and history, moonlights as a proofreader for Locus and Fantasy magazines, and writes science fiction and fantasy stories whenever she can make the time. Her short fiction has appeared in Metaphorosis and Welkin Magazine. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.

Shipboard Calendar: Day 2, hour 15 (Dt'); Earth Calendar: 54 days later (gDt)
I've put the ansible light on my work desk, close against the curve of the inner hull. I flicked the switch before I started writing this entry, thinking of the sunlight on your hair, that last day. Minutes later, my bulb erupted into light. It's such a comfort--to know that you are thinking of me as I think of you.
Shipboard Calendar: Day 10, hour 6 (Dt'); Earth Calendar: 165 days later (gDt)
I miss you. I understand why the mission architects wanted a clean break: no communication, nothing to encourage the ties to our old lives to rub us raw. The other members of the crew seem to be managing. They all agree we can't hold onto the past. That's the only way to face this voyage, this headlong plunge into the void, from which there will be no return.
I know the light is a compromise. I shouldn't keep it on so much. You probably don't want to be reminded. A summer fling with a departing explorer--it was always going to end up in your past. I'll turn mine off now. Will you notice the bulb in yours go dark?
Shipboard Calendar: Day 50, hour 18 (Dt'); Earth Calendar: almost 3 years later (gDt) )
Do you remember when you traced the patterns of the stars across my back as we both looked up into the black? It was always ever going to be a brief moment beneath their faint illumination. Still, I wish my ansible light would turn on more often. You can't have forgotten me completely. Even though it's been years for you, now.
Shipboard Calendar: Day 67, hour 12 (Dt'); Earth Calendar: another year or more gone by (gDt)
I shouldn't have agreed to this mission.
Shipboard Calendar: Day 155, hour 2 (Dt'); Earth Calendar: more time that I like to think about.
I tell myself that you still think of me sometimes, but that the dilation makes the light flicker too fast for me to perceive it. I'm not very good at lying to myself, though.
Shipboard Calendar: What does a day even mean out here?
I shouldn't have brought the lamp. It doesn't make me feel connected; it just reminds me how alone in the dark we are.
I listen to myself breathe. I imagine your heartbeat skittering, hundreds of palpitations for every slow beat of mine. I've become a whale to your hummingbird. I stare at the ansible lamp, will it to light. If my touch, sent back across the lightyears, can reach your lamp, can keep it alight for the long years that are my subjective hours, the least you can do is think of me. I wait for my bulb to brighten with your thoughts.
No Shipboard Calendar:
Time can't catch me, and so I'll never forget you.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

Author Comments

This story was inspired in part by reading K. Ancrum's excellent novel The Weight of the Stars, and in part by the way that memory and emotion stretch and pull our experience of time, even absent the effects of special relativity. It also, of course, owes a debt to Ursula Le Guin's imagination for the idea of the ansible. One of the things I love about SF is the ways that it refracts and reframes ideas from many sources, both fiction and non--and I hope I succeeded in doing that here.

- Chloe Smith
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