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The Flight of the Trace by Steve Jones -B5
SUMMARY: 2nd place, 2006 sffworld short story contest. My mom is very proud.
"What are you building?" Seila asked.
Curtiz had been working in their bay for more than a week. They lived in one of the "neighborhood" space stations orbiting Mars, along with thirty other families. Curtiz had a workshop, he was always putting something together.
"It's my version of the P-14, Covdell Tracion engine," He said, proudly showing the disassembled boat in front of them. It was the frame of an old orbiter which had obviously seen better days. It didn't look like it could survive one orbit.
"I think I remember hearing about those," Seila said, shaking her head. "They didn't work, right?"
"That's not entirely true. Covdell sent three robot craft to Proxima Centauri, programmed to take some readings, turn around and return," Curtiz said. "But they never came back."
"Isn't that the very definition of ‘didn't work'," She said.
"But it did work," Curtiz said. "We have the first few microseconds of telemetry. The concept is really simple, the fusion generator feeds the matrix assimilatory, which, once it reaches the functional level, activates the engine, propelling the craft at relativistic speeds for a fraction of a second. How long that fraction is determines how far away the craft goes. The matrix assimilatory on this boat is much smaller than the one Covdell used, and, according to all performance estimates, should allow me to jump about 3 AUs at a time. I can get from one part of the solar system to another in less than a second ... I've lost you, haven't I?"
"Right after you said ‘really simple'," She admitted. "You're not going to fly in this thing, are you?"
"Not right away," He said.
"Um ... ‘They never came back.'?"
"I'll do a lot of tests," Curtiz said. "Don't worry."
Seila nodded and climbed back into their living area.
"Just as soon as I get back," Curtiz said to himself.
Curtiz worked on his boat for the better part of the evening, barely acquiescing the time to eat dinner with Seila. She really did care about his projects, she just didn't always understand them.
It was fairly late when he finished putting the last of the reinforced hull panels on the boat. As an afterthought, he took time to stencil the name "Trace" onto the side of the boat, just under the side window. He had always wanted to a ship named "the Trace."
Curtiz looked around, knowing Seila had already gone to sleep, and climbed into the control seat of the Trace. The theory had been proven many times, building the engine on a smaller scale made perfect sense. He would be back in a few minutes.
"This is my first flight with the modified P-14 engine," Curtiz said to the recorder. "I am going to take a quick hop to Jupiter, Gorges is a friend of mine, a researcher on Europa station. I can't wait to see the look on his face when I show him this."
He consulted the Eurika 2 navigation net, a configuration of small satellites which currently were on their way out through the asteroid belt. His computer triangulated his position according to the satellites, then gave him the heading for Jupiter.