Author : Patrica Stewart

The finals of the twenty-fourth biannual solar wind races were in their thirty-ninth day. The race course was a 15,000,000,000 mile Z-shaped trek within the Alpha Centuri system. The Alpha Centuri system was considered ideal for solar wind racing because it contained three stars. The light from each star provides the primary propulsion for one leg of the race. The ships start near Alpha Centuri A, the brightest star, and accelerate toward Alpha Centuri B, 23 AU away. At a distance of 2 AU from B, the ships leave the A-B plain, and maintain a constant distance from the red dwarf, Alpha Centauri C (aka, Proxima). After an additional 51 AU, the ships turn from their tangential course to “radial-away,” and sail for the finish line. Although the inertia re-vector compensators allows each ship to retain most of the speed they developed during previous legs, the winner of the race was usually the ship that could best collect the feeble light of Proxima (19,000 times fainter than Earth’s Sun).

Over the past fifteen months, the 64 one person ships had been reduced to two, the SS Asimov, and the SS Weinbaum. The Asimov, piloted by Horatio Clarke, was currently in first place as the two ships were within a 600 million miles of the finish line. The Weinbaum, piloted by Lee Midier, was attempting to block the Asimov’s light. ‘Blocking light’ was a standard racing maneuver for the trailing ship. Place your 532 square mile sail (over 50% larger than the city of New York) between the light source and the sail of the leading ship, and you get all the photons. You accelerate, they only coast. If you’re really good, or lucky, you could pass them before the finish line.

Both ships were currently ‘running with the photons,’ so the optimum sail shape was parabolic, like the mirror in a reflecting telescope. In an effort to keep free of Weinbaum’s shadow, Clarke initiated a variable corkscrew maneuver by reversing the polarity of a one square mile portion of his sail, at the 6:00 position, along the periphery. He then advanced the polarized area, sometimes clockwise, sometimes counter-clockwise, to keep his sail in full Proxima-light. Captain Clarke watched with pure enjoyment as the Weinbaum floundered repeatedly in its effort the match his variable course. Clarke activated the ship-to-ship comm unit. “Give up, Lee. I’m no midshipman. Try something else, like jettisoning some dead weight. I recommend you start with the Captain.”

Because the Weinbaum was 30,000,000 miles behind the Asimov, Clarke had to wait over five minutes to hear Lee’s radio reply. “We’re still two days out, Horatio. You have to sleep sometime.”

But neither man slept. The two ships continued their light duel for the next two days, but the Weinbaum was never able to overtake the Asimov. The Asimov won by a distance equal to the Earth-Mars close approach.

At the celebration banquet, Captain Clarke accepted the trophy for the seventh consecutive time, and announced his retirement from racing. A few hours later, as Clarke was preparing to leave the reception, Lee Midier confronted him. “You can’t retire, you old bastard. I almost beat you this time. You have to give me one more chance. If you go, who shall I race, what shall I do?”

With a half smirk on his face, Clarke stepped onto the transporter pad and said “Frankly, Midier, I don’t give a damn.” Then he dissolved away.

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