Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Dammit Joe, it’s freakin’ freezing in here,” complained Thomas Sampati as he checked the spaceship’s thermostat.”

“We’re eight hours behind the Phoenix,” replied Joe. “We need to make a non-traditional course adjustment if we hope to win the race.”

“’Non-traditional?’ The course goes from Vesta, around the sun, past Earth, and back to Vesta. That’s 600 million miles. There’s nothing to change.”

“Officially, the course is from Vesta, around the sun, and back to Vesta. It’s just that they time the start of the race so that the Earth is positioned off to the side to give the contestants a gravitational slingshot on the way back to Vesta. The sponsors want the Earth swing-by so the spectators can see the ships up close. But we’re not ‘required’ to swing past the Earth. In fact, in ’79, the Orion accidentally flew thousand miles too close to the sun and ended up on the wrong side of the Earth, so they were decelerate, not accelerate. They finished in last place, but they weren’t disqualified. That precedent makes it legal to cut inside the Earth.”

“I don’t like where this is going.”

“Relax. I’ve been planning this contingency for months. I figure if we fly really close to the sun, we can fly directly back toward Vesta, and shorten the trip by seventy million miles.”

“How close is ‘really close’?”

“Until today, nobody goes inside Mercury’s orbit, about 30 million miles. I plan to go as close as 5 million miles.”

“Are you nuts? They stay that far away for a reason. The sun’s kinda hot you know. We’ll be subjected to 36 times the radiation of the other ships. We’ll fry.”

“Not necessarily. I plan to deploy a Meissner shield; a thin mirror-like reflector made out of a superconductive alloy. It’s also a perfect Faraday shield. Virtually nothing will get through to the ship.”

“Virtually nothing?”

“Well, it will get a little hot in here. That’s why we need to make it as cold as possible before we start.”

“Do you also plan to change the name of the ship to ‘The Icarus’?”

“Icarus? He was the one who died.”

“That’s my point.”

“Look, Tom, either grow a pair, or get in an escape pod.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll stay, but I don’t have to like it.”

“Thanks. Now, start hydrating yourself. It’s going to take twelve hours to complete the fly-by of the sun.”

As the ship began to round the sun, the thermostat started to climb. “How hot can we go before we die?” asked Sampati.

“At 100% humidity, only 105F. But I have the dehumidifier at maximum. We can probably survive to 170F, as long as our perspiration can evaporate. Keep drinking water, and take those salt tablets.”

At periapsis, they fired the main thrusters to maximize the ship’s velocity.

During the fly-by, the men were forced to endure a living hell. For the first six hours, they were worried that they would die. For the second six hours, they were wishing they would. Finally, they were heading away from the sun, and the temperature began to drop. Drenched with sweat, Joe checked the telemetry. “According to the computer, we shortened the trip by ten hours. We should be ahead. I’ll check with the officials.”

“God,” exclaimed Sampati, “That was the worst 12 hours of my life. I wouldn’t do that again, not even for first place prize money. Uh oh, what’s wrong?”

“The update just came in. Those bastards on the Phoenix did the same maneuver. They’re still eight hours in front.”

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