To Our Friends On Earth

March 6, 2021
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I am happy to report that we have left the well.

The Andromeda Ambassador Fleet completed our Jupiter slingshot, and the Pak Thruster Arrays gave us plenty of push to get up and away from the gravitational grip of our home sun. When we departed, we knew ours was a journey into the unknown, and we promised to share what we found with you. We remain committed to these goals, but already the journey is stranger than we anticipated, and it's important to bring you up to speed.

We are safe. All of our life support and sustainable supply systems are fully intact, all of our vessels are in full operation and we remain in good health. However, we are not where we expected to be, and we do not know why. When we turned on the Pak Thrusters, our course was a straight shot towards Andromeda. Our first thrust was planned to take us 20 LY to Checkpoint One. When the thrust was complete, we countered our thrust to slow to classical speeds and triangulated our position. The results boggle the mind.

As far as we can tell, we traveled more than 60 LY, and not in the direction we anticipated. Our direction of travel appears to have shifted, such that Andromeda is not in front of us, but at a steep angle to our side. Even more alarming is the question of where Earth is. Scanners identify our home sun sitting far to one side, which is in line with our analysis of Andromeda. However, the hyperchannel array I am communicating with you through has a wholly different idea. The array is still link-locked to Earth, aimed 20 LY behind us. We do not know why.

We assembled a fleet-wide council to discuss our options. After careful consideration and public debate, the overwhelming spirit of the fleet is in favor of continued exploration. However, with our unreliable navigation, our fleet no longer feels suited to the specific task of visiting Andromeda. Should this remain a priority, we recommend the construction of a new fleet. While we understand this is less than ideal, we note that disagreeing with our decision would also require the construction of a new fleet.

Fear has quickly turned to excitement as the crew puzzles over our displacement. The artists have popularized a term for our strange predicament, they call it the Fritz. Names have power, and suddenly the crew is rallying around the call to "Forge the Fritz". One of our poets captured the feeling succinctly:

"We didn't leave because we knew what we'd find,
we left to find what we didn't know.
I don't know what happens in the Fritz,
that's why it's where I want to go."

So I guess that makes this the final broadcast from the Andromeda Ambassador Fleet and the first broadcast from the Fritz Fleet. We'll be out here for as long as we can, and we'll let you know all about what we find.

With adventure in our hearts!

-Your Friends in the Fritz

The Final Nap Under A Yellow Sun

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He wasn't homesick, exactly.

While a lot of the excitement for the Andromeda Ambassador Fleet was focused on what would happen after the Jupiter slingshot, Matteo didn't want to miss out on the wonders of touring through our home system before we left. The exit course didn't go too terribly close to Mars, but it did offer a nice side view through the 'scopes that he cherished as they passed. Many fleet members were content to look at the holo-vis models floating around the lounge, but Matteo always preferred the feel of looking through an actual optical 'scope.

After Mars diminished into the dark, the big thing to watch is the Sun as it slowly shrinks. While its brightness still dominates the sky, it's clearly smaller than it had been from his backyard growing up. This fills Matteo with both excitement and longing. It's the clearest sign yet that he's leaving home for good. He knows, we all do, that there is no going back, especially once we swing around Jupiter and fire the thrusters.

Watching a familiar sun fade into the distance reminded Matteo of being a child, adventuring away from the warm fireplace inside, out into the dark forest. Back then, he'd rarely go far enough to lose sight of the porch light. If something lurking in the forest reared its head, he'd scurry back into the light where it was safe. Can't really do that here, though.

What wolves and owls and frogs and thunderstorms are out here, lurking in the stars? Before worry can take hold, Matteo smiled and looked around the room. He's not a little kid anymore. This crew is full of intelligent, kind, and clever people of all sorts, many of them he'd consider close friends. He's not wandering off into the dark. He's bringing a whole fleet full of light and life out here with him.

"Matty, we're getting pretty close to Jupiter. It's time to head to bed." Standing behind him on the observation deck, Catriona smiled at Matteo. She'd been the one who taught him how to aim the 'scopes, and anytime he found something pretty, he was sure to let her know.

"Already? It still looks so far away. We can barely see the colors from here," Matteo protested.

"That's a BIG ball of gas out there. So big your head isn't really putting it into scale. We're just not used to seeing things that big. But we're going to start thrust while we fall through its gravity well. Once we get going, the forces are going to be pretty intense even inside the transport bubble. We have to be strapped in and asleep before that happens, you know that."

"I know, I know. It's just, this is it, right? The last time we'll look out at the stars from our own solar system. When we wake up, we'll be out there," he pointed through the window, "looking back."

Catriona gave a sympathetic smile. "Looking forward too, Matteo. I cleared out the rest of the observatory before coming to get you. But I still have to strap you in and report to central, preferably before I'm walking on the walls. So it's time to go. Besides, I need to show you one more thing before you sleep."

Matteo's curiosity betrayed his lingering homesickness. "Oh, really? Something I won't need a 'scope for?"

"Well, kinda. Come on, it's in your chambers."

A short walk later, Matteo opened the door to his room. It looked almost precisely how he'd left it, which is to say clean and barely disturbed. But an unusual miniature obelisk sat atop the nightstand near his bed, tilted at a peculiar angle. Catriona swatted at his hand before he could pick it up.

"Leave it there, I oriented it to handle the gravity we're about to swing through. Hop in bed, I'll show you." While Matteo obliged, Catriona tapped a careful rhythm into the side of the obelisk. On the ceiling above his bed, a projected image of Jupiter sprung to life. "I know you prefer real scopes, but since you can't be in the observatory I rigged up this projector. It's the live feed from the frontship, the best view we'll have of the flyby."

Matteo's face lit up under the yellow glow. Catriona couldn't tell which was brighter, the projected planet or his beaming smile. "This is wonderful! Cat, you really did all this for me?"

"Matty, you've been on the observation deck every day since we left. I couldn't think of another person in the fleet who spent more time looking back at home than you. We're about to make a whole lot of history, everything out there will be some kind of first for humanity. But remembering where we came from is important too! I wanted you to have the best last memory of home because I think you'll hold on to it with the most care."

Tears welled up in Matteo's eyes. "I don't know what to say, Cat. Thank you so much for this."

"You're still going to be strapped in, of course. And the sleep IV will still knock you out and stabilize your internals for the thrusters. You're only going to get a few more minutes like this before we're all hurtling through dreamland at relativistic speeds."

"I understand. I'll cherish every second, I promise."

"Good, I expect to hear all about it on the other side. Now let's get you strapped in. You only get one more nap here in the well. When we wake up, it's a whole new frontier." Catriona helped Matteo anchor to bed and hook up the IV with the effortless speed of a trained physician.

"To Andromeda, Matty!"

"To the stars, Cat!"

The door slid closed, and Matteo was left in a staring match with Jupiter. The largest planet he'd known. He wondered how long that would stay true. Would they find bigger gas planets in Andromeda? Our stormy titan was a fortunate big brother for Earth, collecting and redirecting much of the space debris that could threaten us down-well. Did other planets have such friendly siblings?

Sleep began to tug at Matteo's eyelids. That or gravity, he considered, not totally sure. He pushed through it, determined to keep watch for as long as he could. Reality fading around the edges, he kept his focus locked on the swirling oranges and browns of the looming gas giant. Its size grew and grew, filling the room far beyond the boundaries of the projector. Matteo recognized that he must be falling into a dream. Mustering the last of his willpower, he strained to pry his eyes open for one more glimpse.

Through his blurring vision, he made out the image of Jupiter one more time, serene and enormous as ever. "Goodbye, giant," he thought. In the delirium of his fading consciousness, he could almost hear the planet call back.

"Good luck, mice."

A Very Long Sound

March 10, 2021
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Lea knew all about the strap-down policies for the Pak Thruster array.

She'd helped write them. In particular, she knew all about the acceleration test reports and had seen first-hand what occurred when a test dummy wasn't secured properly. Many crew members will strap-in for the jump while remembering one of her lectures about "scraping human puree off the bulkheads."

So when she requisitioned a lab to run an experiment during the first jump, no one really questioned her. She dressed the report up in sufficient bureaucratic camouflage, "Examining the Effects of Extreme Displacement on Culturally Programmed Harmonic Sequences." As far as she knew, no one had bothered to decipher her plan to produce an extremely long sound.

While most of the fleet began strapping down, Lea snuck off to set up. She couldn't help but feel a little guilty. She wasn't doing anything dangerous, but she's sure if word got out, there'd have to be long council meetings and campaigns and votes, and by the time it actually happened, it wouldn't be any fun. Besides, she already had the right song picked out.

Lea set the timer on the music box and strapped it to the harness she'd designed for it. There wasn't time to stand around wistfully; she needed to get to her bunk and strap in.  Her one regret was that she wouldn't get to be in the room while the song played. She'd have to settle for the room recording after the jump.

Still, as she raced through the halls to her room, she could almost imagine the piano's opening bars and Freddie Mercury's velvety tenor.

"Tonight, I'm gonna have myself a good time."

A beautiful calm settled in as Lea fastened her restraints and attached her fluid IV. The nervous energy that had coursed through the crew recently cooled into a firm determination. The jump was no longer theoretical. It's happening. Before Freddie can finish this song.

"I'm floating around in ecstasy, so don't stop me, don't stop me."

The gentle caress of sleep began to tickle the back of her head as the fluids prepared her for the extreme acceleration. "No stopping us now," she thought, for the last time in this solar system.

As the thrusters' rumble develops into a feverous scream, the chorus builds, the piano picks up, and then it happens. Across 60 lightyears, Freddie announces humanity to the universe.

"I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky."

Highlights from the First Triangulation Council

March 11, 2021
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"At this point, I'm sure we've all heard the rumor, but it's only proper to start with the official report.

It appears that our first use of the Pak Thruster array has put us significantly farther away than we anticipated. While our calculations were for a 20 lightyear jump, our current triangulations suggest we've gone a bit more than 60. While a full review of all thruster systems is underway, we do not currently have a working explanation for this outcome.

Furthermore, there is an apparent disagreement on our exact location. All of our optical 'scopes place us 60 LY from Earth, as I just described. But our communications uplink is still focused on a signal from Earth, appearing only 20 LY behind us. Exactly where we anticipated it to be with our original launch plan. The communications systems are likewise under full review, but for now, the Comms team has chosen not to interact with the Earth signal until receiving guidance from this council."

"So we went too far, in the wrong way, we don't know why, and we aren't sure we can tell anyone?"

"More or less, yes."

"And this isn't just a jumpfluid induced nightmare, right? I think I've had this dream before."

"Good question. I can usually fly in my dreams. Let me try."

"You're.. you're not flying."

"No, I'm afraid not."

- - - - -

"I'm not saying I don't want to go to Andromeda.

We're the Andromeda Ambassador Fleet. Every person here signed up to go to Andromeda. I'm just asking, can we even still say that's where we're going? With all respect to engineering, aren't we sorta strapped to chaotic rockets?"

"Well, even if we wanted to give up and turn back, it's not like we could, right? Earth is just as hard of a target to reach as anything else. If we can't trust the jump thrusters, we can't really plan to go anywhere. At least, not anywhere in particular."

"Let's be honest, we were never going back to Earth. There's no room for us there anymore, and we've all let go of that life. Going back now, hanging our heads low..

Nah. I'd rather stay in space."

- - - - -

"I think we all agree there's no hurry to fire up the thrusters right away.

But eventually, we might want to move, even if we don't know where we're going. I mean, I'm sure we can do some science here for a while, but.. we're in deep empty space. There's not that much for us here to look at, right?"

"I wasn't ready to submit a report yet, but actually, we have picked up a few strange signals as we've run diagnostics. It's all still raw data being crunched on and parsed, but at the very least, something is making the 'scopes team buzz."

"Signals? What kind of signals."

"Sorry, that's all I really absorbed from the status meeting this morning. Jumpfuild still wearing off, you know? We'll have a more thorough report soon."

- - - - -

"We have to tell Earth something.

We owe them that much. I mean, assuming we can still reach them. But it's at least worth a shot. Imagine you're planetside, watching trillions of dollars in supplies and research take off, then never hearing a peep from them."

"Yeah, but what do we say? Sorry, everything on the fritz, we're lost, space is scary?"

"It doesn't have to be so grim. Let's just be honest. Tell them what we see, tell them what we're thinking."

"And what are we thinking, exactly?"

"Maybe we should spend a little time making sure we know. I move that the council inform the fleet at large. Open ears, open minds, let's listen to each other before we start speaking for everyone."

- - - - -

"I know there's a lot of uncertainty right now.

There's power in a plan and fear when it falls apart. But remember, we signed up for this. Going into the unknown, stepping outside of the boundaries, hurtling through the stars on the cutting edge of human knowledge. Whatever we choose to do, there's no one in the universe better prepared for this challenge than our fleet."

"Samil is right. This may not be what we planned for, but it is what we were made to do. Our thrusters may be on the fritz, but they just fritzed us 60 lightyears in under 2 minutes. We're pioneers, whether we like it or not. And honestly, I could get used to that speed."

Lost Already

March 13, 2021
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The only map we had is a photograph
Space far away is where we pointed craft
We built an array to get there fast
And took a wrong turn right off the bat.

Lost already, no answers why
we wound up in the wrong patch of sky
Fear might be expected, I defy
I don't think I've ever felt this alive.

Space ain't a place to expect perfection
Unexpected is my best direction
and once the systems all pass inspection
I'm itching to explore another star section.

Bring on the surprise, welcome in the glitches
Let the ghosts in the system posses a couple switches
We're lighting up the dark, and I'm getting suspicious
that our place in the stars is out here where the Fritz is.

Blond Breakfast

March 15, 2021
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"Decided on a fresh new look, huh?" Tia asked Mikal.

Mikal looked up from his meal with a puzzled expression. "Me?"

"Yeah, you!" Tia chuckled, then suddenly, her face sank into worried consideration. "Oh, wait. Maybe I've made a big mistake."

"Tia, what are you talking about?"

"I'm not very good with faces. Sometimes I misremember." Tia meekly explained, trying to bury her eyes in the floor. "Please don't take it personally. I just thought you had brown hair before. I'm sure it's just my brain mixing things up."

"I still don't quite follow. But I do have brown hair."

Tia dared to look up, and her worried expression deepened. Mikal's medium-length blond hair framed his face handsomely. But it was unmistakably blond. Not light brown, not dusty blond, but bright, freshly bleached, beaming yellow blond. "Mikal, please don't tease me. Your hair is the blondest hair I've ever seen."

It was Mikal's turn to look worried. Pulling a few strands to look at through the side of his eyes, he saw the unfamiliar color and almost jumped out of his seat. "What?! When did this happen? Tia... Tia! I didn't do this. Why am I blond?"

"How could anyone else change your hair color, Mikal?"

"I don't know, Tia. This doesn't make any sense. I would've noticed blond hair when I woke up and looked in the mirror this morning. It must have changed since then, but all I've done was  a quick jog in the track room and then came here to get some food."

Tia's curiosity cut through her confusion, and her engineer mind took over. "Rapid hair discoloration. Did anything feel weird during your workout? I wonder if the jumpfluid had a residual reaction activated by body sweat? We should-"

"Tia. Look." Mikal pointed to another crew member who'd just walked into the cafeteria. With bright blond hair. "Him too."

Tia blinked for a moment, then ripped her hood down. "Do I?" she asked impatiently. Her short buzz cut was the same brilliant blond as the rest of the room. She read the answer off Mikal's nervous face. "Ok. That means it's not the workout. It's something that's affecting a lot of us. Hey, excuse me, sir?" She called toward the crew member.

"Yes?" they replied.

"We all have blond hair, and we don't know why. You too."

"I.. wait.. what?"

Tia brought up her camera and snapped a quick pic. "See? We're all this way."

"Oh.. wow." They shook their head for a moment. "We should probably head to the medbay, just in case. And quick, in case this is something that spreads." they put their food down carefully and tapped open a comms app. "Medbay. Hey, it's Nobu. I'm down at the cafeteria, and something is strange. Like Code 17. Can you clear a quarantine? I'm coming down with 2 others. We're all Class C for now, OK? Thank you." Looking up at the other two, Nobu gestured. "Don't worry, but do be quick, come on."

Striding quickly down the hall, Nobu kept announcing to the mostly empty halls. "Class C, safety quartine moving through. Do not approach." They were halfway to the medbay when Tia stopped in her tracks.

"Wait! You're not blond anymore. Either of you." They both turned back, and sure enough, none of them had yellow hair.

"Are those your natural colors? Is my hair black again?" Nobu asked. Mikal nodded.

"You said you looked in the mirror this morning, and your hair was normal, right Mikal?" Tia asked. "So the first time any of us noticed strange hair was back in the cafeteria. We should go back."

"I'm not sure that's a great idea," Nobu said. "If there's something in the cafeteria causing our hair to change, or maybe interfering with our vision-"

"We can check! I took a picture," Tia interjected, "of you, to show you your hair, remember? Here it is.. oh." Tia's worried look returned. She turned the screen to show the picture of Nobu from the cafeteria, with perfectly natural black hair. "I don't know how to explain that. We all saw your blond hair before."

Nobu nodded. "That's why I'm saying we should be careful. Until we know what we're dealing with, we shouldn't rush into anything."

"I agree," Mikal said, "but we should at least make sure no one goes in there. Until a haz team is ready, we're the best suited to watching the doors. We've already been exposed. Let's try to keep it to just us."

Nobu and Tia read each other's faces, and both nodded. The group headed back to the cafeteria. Turning the final corner, they spotted a pair of crew members walking toward the entrance.

"Hey, stop! It's not safe!" Tia called out. While both men looked up, neither stopped their stride, and they stepped through the frame into the cafeteria. As they did, their hair lit up in the same blond as before, cascading in a sharp line like a cheesy special effect. "You both saw that right?" she asked her group.

"Yeah. It's definitely the cafeteria. But that almost makes less sense," Miakl replied.

Nobu strode forward to address the two men. "Sorry fellas, there's something strange happening here. Look up at your hair." The men jolted in surprise as they recognized the change in each other. "Yeah. That happened to us too. It seems to happen to anyone who goes in the cafeteria."

One of the men began to dash out the door in a panic. Nobu calmly raised an arm and said, "Wait. You're already in there. We have to be careful here. Please stay for just a minute."

Tia spoke up, "I was in there for 15 minutes. I feel fine. You're going to be OK, but we need to test something first." She pulled her camera up and framed the two men through the doorway. "Smile! Thanks. Now let's see what the camera sees. Mikal, look!"

Turning the screen around, Tia showed it to everyone present. The men had natural colors in the photo, no blond. "OK, now one more test. Here, catch." Tia tossed her phone to one of the men. "Now show me the picture again.

"Whoa!" said the man with the phone. "I don't understand." He presented the photo, and sure enough, both men were pictured as blond as they appeared to be.

"We need to get a medic team down here," Nobu said. "Can I ask you two to stay in there until we have medics here? I know it's a lot to ask, but the more data we have, the better chance we have of figuring this out."

Seeing the worry in his friend's face, the more confident of the men burst open in a reassuring smile. "Ha! I've always wanted to be blond. Tell you what, I'm pretty hungry anyway. We'll get some breakfast while you get the medics, deal? Besides, I've gotta tell Julia about this. She's going to flip."

Before Nobu could say more, the man had his phone to his ear. "Hey, Jules, it's Issac. Are you still making that list? Yeah. Yeah, I've got one for you. I'm in the B-Deck cafeteria on 078, with Suri, and we both have wild blond hair. No! It turned blond when we walked in. Yeah. Happened to some others, too. But it went away when they left. Yes, really. That's what I'm saying. You need to get down here."

Julia's List

March 16, 2021
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A lot has happened since the first jump.

While we all know that the jump was mysteriously off course, we are only beginning to discover the true extent of our situation. If you haven't noticed yet, things seem to be behaving strangely around the fleet. I've begun collecting a list of unexplained and unusual situations developing throughout the fleet. All of this started after with the first jump:

1. When the fleet used the Pak Thruster Array, we wound up going three times farther than expected, in the wrong direction.

2. Earth appears, optically, about 60 lightyears away. Earth is in a different location according to the comms array, which has it 20 lightyears away. This location is where we'd have expected Earth to be if the Pak Thrusters hadn't fritzed.

3. The engine trail of Hermite Crab (SCID #112) is uncharacteristically green. Additionally, the engine room has an unexplained "metallic" taste in the air.

4. A crew member on Jasper Sunset (SCID #585) has reported the disappearance of their orange tabby, "Scott". Five other crew members have found stray orange tabby cats, none of which are "Scott".

5. The hallway from the lower bunks on the Jade Renegade (SCID #015) slope downward toward the anterior observatory. This directly conflicts all stored blueprints of the spacecraft, and the recent memories of its occupants.

6. A cafeteria in the central corridor of the Alabaster Point (SCID #119) causes all occupants' hair to turn blond while inside of it. The effect only persists within the perimeter of the room.

7. The food terminal in the front café of the Carbon Hammer (SCID #260) prints a small chai tea every 15 minutes. Even after being unplugged. The tea itself is reportedly "a bit better than usual".

There's more to this list that I'm still investigating and verifying.

If you are encountering anything unusual, please let me know. In particular:

Have you had dreams involving elephants recently, more than once? If so you're not alone.

Have any crew members gone missing?

Have any new rooms appeared that didn't exist before? (Please do not enter strange rooms without proper precautions.)

Are your machines operating normally?

Have you seen anything strange outside the hulls?

Whatever is happening out here, we'll figure it out. But the first step is to gather data. So get out there, be safe, stay alert, and keep talking.

The Skipping Stone Theory of Intergalactic Travel

March 17, 2021
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As you know, Engineering has been hard at work on a thorough review of the Pak Thruster Array.

Today I can report that, to the best of our ability, the entire Thruster system is working in perfect order. We can't find any evidence of damage or disruption. Furthermore, the recorded energy use, which can be verified by post-jump capacitor measurement, was perfectly in line with our pre-launch calculations. As far as we can tell, the Pak Thrusters accelerated us through 20 LY of interstellar medium. Of course, we wound up 60 LY away, in the wrong direction.

This either means we have no idea how our own tech works or that the interstellar medium itself has unexpected properties. While our science team continues to try to construct malfunction models that would explain the consistent measurements of our diagnostics, we felt it was important to present an alternative theory that has risen to prominence within the team. We call it the Skipping Stone theory.

As you know, the Pak Thruster uses q-vac tethers to tug the fleet through space within the transport bubble. In this manner, the whole fleet is held together as a single object as the bubble is propelled through space by the compounded vector engines. We waited until after the slingshot maneuver to activate the thrusters so that we could avoid gravitational interference from our own sun. Based on quite a bit of observational data, we assumed that the interstellar medium is mostly empty and relatively uniform.

However, it's possible that space out here isn't as uniform as we anticipated.

Or perhaps that it behaves differently when traveling at super-c speeds. It might be the case that we "skip" through the interstellar medium instead of traveling a direct path through it. When a stone is skipped across a pond's surface, it is only slowed down by the water in the brief moments it makes contact. When it bounces up off the surface, it hurtles through empty air with much less friction. Our transport bubble may have done something similar.

If we are skipping through space, it would explain our unexpectedly long jump. But to explain the change in direction, imagine rippled, radial waves moving across the surface of a pond. Now imagine the same rock skipping across just the tops of those waves. If the rock approaches the wave peaks from a skewed angle, one side of the rock will drag through more water than the other. This imbalanced drag could cause the rock's path to bend. If our transport bubble encountered wave-shaped distortions while we used the thrusters, it might explain both the unexpected distance and direction of our travel.

This theory does fit a lot of our current data. However, it leaves several large questions unanswered. Where are we when we are "out of the water"? What creates the waves? Can we chart and navigate by them? And why didn't we detect this interference during testing?

All models are flawed, but some are useful. This has proven to be our most useful theory so far. Our scientists aren't backing down from this challenge, and I will keep the council informed of any significant progress.

Talking Fritz

March 18, 2021
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"Have you seen any fritz yet?" Sahib asked, with the usual mischievous look in his eyes.

"Well, kinda, I guess. I saw the green engine trails in the vir-view" Kira said. "Have you?"

Sahib looked around and lowered his voice, but just barely. "Don't tell anyone, but I had blond hair this morning."

"Sahib! You should know better! It could be dangerous. We don't know what's going on with those.. things."

"The fritzes."

"Yeah. Fritzes" Kira practiced the pronunciation a few times silently. "Hey, since you've had your turn being dumb, now it's my turn."

Sahib recoiled with comedically exaggerated shock. "Kira? Planning to do something dumb? I can't believe it. Tell me more!"

"No, it's nothing like that. I just have a question, and.." Kira sighed. "Everyone always thinks I'm so smart, so when something doesn't make sense I get really embarrassed."

Recognizing the sincerity of his friend, Sahib dropped the teasing demeanor. "Everyone gets confused sometimes Kira, it's nothing to be worried about. What's the question?"

Kira took a breath. "I'm not good with slang. I always have a hard time keeping up with new words. Recently, everyone is saying 'fritz', but I only kinda understand what they mean."

"I don't think anyone really knows what the Fritz is."

"No, I mean, I get that. It's just that the word is confusing, it gets used a bunch of ways. Like, when you sat down, you asked if I'd seen 'a fritz' yet. So fritz is a noun, and it means one of the weird things that's happening?"

"Yeah, exactly."

"But then when the thrusters didn't work, was that a fritz? Did the engines have a fritz, or was there a fritz around the engines?"

"Oh, I see. You're right, it is a little confusing. I think it's a pretty flexible term. I think it fits in a few places. So the thruster array fritzed. That means there was a fritz in their operation, a strange occurrence. So fritz can be a noun or a verb, and the past tense verb is fritzed."

"That makes sense. So when you snuck into that cafeteria, there was a fritz there, and it fritzed your hair?"

"Exactly. Or you could say my hair fritzed out. The old way of saying it is 'Something is on the fritz', but I don't think you should worry too much about that grammar. It just meant acting up or malfunctioning."

"Ok, yeah, that was slipping me up a bit. But I've heard people say 'in the Fritz'. Or the sticker graffiti I see that says 'Welcome to the Fritz'. So, is the Fritz a place too?"

Sahib nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I think capital F 'Fritz' is the name everyone is settling on for the part of space we're in. The Fritz is where things fritz." Sahib gestured with his hands to help clarify the proper noun.

"Alright. That's a bit confusing, but I think I can handle it. So if I got this right, the following is all grammatically correct: The thrusters fritzed out, and brought us to the Fritz, where fritzes happen, and we don't know why."

"Bingo." Sahib said, then quickly clarified "That's correct."

"It feels pretty silly to me. It's way too much responsibility for one little word."

"Probably. But language is weird, you know? It's a soup we're all cooking."

Kira chuckled. "Well, I think I'll have to let this one stew a bit longer."

This time Sahib's shocked expression was genuine. "Someone call Julia, I found another fritz. Kira is making puns!"

To Our Friends in Space

March 19, 2021
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We've received your report, Fritz Fleet.

Let me start by saying we are overjoyed to hear that you completed your exit from the solar system safely. Regardless of the navigation trouble, this is still a momentous achievement, and you should be proud. What you do from here will define the foundation of humanity's future in space.

Regarding the Andromeda mission, we understand your position. Until the Pak Thruster Array can be used reliably, venturing to Alpha Centauri is unrealistic. We still hope to visit Andromeda with your fleet or another, but we won't move forward with those plans until we better understand your situation. So, as far as the Planetary Council is concerned, we endorse your new mission statement and formally recognize the Fritz Fleet.

As you succinctly pointed out, we have no realistic means of enforcing authority over your Fleet, and honestly, we have no desire to. We do hope, however, that we can maintain a mutually beneficial partnership. We are eager to hear all about everything you encounter. Please continue your broadcasts for as long as you are able.

Our engineers have been reviewing the navigation and systems data you've transmitted. We don't have a lot of insight to offer, but we are sending you our observational data, including optics from two satellites that happened to be pointed across your travel path. Maybe there are clues in that data that will help you in your investigations.

Finally, we're developing a plan to launch a new beacon into vertical solar orbit to assist your navigation. We'll transmit further details as they become available but hope to get you a lighthouse signal shortly. At the very least, it should provide insight into the "doubled earth" phenomenon you've described.

Good luck, Fritz Fleet. We know that within your ranks are many of humanity's brightest and most capable problem solvers. While your circumstance is shrouded in questions, we can think of no better crew to be out there finding answers. Your home planet is with you in spirit and eager to know what you find.

In the spirit of exploration,

-Alvis Sandhya,

Earth-Space Planetary Council

P.S. Please send us your new emblems. Our marketing team has never been more excited to develop a merch campaign.