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     I never was one to waste time. I would sit and think up ways to accomplish two or three tasks at a time -- no matter how long it took -- just so that when I actually went into action, not a single move was wasted. Shortcuts were my favorite time saver. I often thought that if I spent enough time planning my shortcuts ahead of time, I could get to where I was going before I actually left. It's kind of like that moving-faster-than-light thing. If you go from point A to point B at light speed, turn around and come back at twice the speed of light, shouldn't you be able to get back in time to see yourself leave?

     Of course it doesn't work that way. It takes to long to turn around. But shortcuts do work for the most part as a rule.

      Normally, I would have given myself plenty of leeway for this trip. You're only late to Kelly's parties once or twice, then you don't have to worry about it because you're never invited again. I was late for Kelly's last party. She said I would go to the bottom of her list if it happened again and that I would probably die of old age before I made it back to the top. To be included on her list at all was a remarkable accomplishment, but to be relegated to the bottom of it with the rest of the losers would be an unendurable insult. I had no intentions of breathing the same air as those guys and having to stare at Kelly through a pair of long distance goggles because I was so deep in the crowd I needed a com unit just to say hello.

     It used to be that the fastest route between two points in space was a straight line. That was before engineers learned how to fully exploit gravity wells and black holes. The faster you wanted to go, the more complicated and non direct your route could become. It was often more like the path an out of warranty auto-navigator might take, anything but straight.

     While I was busy planning my flight to Kelly's place by utilizing every known anomaly between Earth and Farside for my shortcut, time was slipping away. I was late before I had even left, at least as far as previous routes I had taken were concerned. This called for drastic measures, something I had no qualms about taking advantage of.

     The only option I had was to try to do something that no one had ever done before, something that no one in their right mind would do. Something so highly dangerous that it was against galactic law to even consider, unless of course you had a suicide permit. If you had one of those, you could do almost anything you wanted, unmolested by the Deep Space Patrol. That's the only reason anyone would willingly try what I was going to do.

     Now I'm not suicidal -- at least not yet anyway -- but the last thing I wanted was for Kelly to have a reason to reject me with her unjust and uncompromising rules. I was currently at or near the top of her list after all, and I planned on staying there, forever if at all possible. It was well worth the risk.

     My plan was to make the Edison wormhole run for initial acceleration, and then instead of the standard slingshot maneuver past the influence of the Barium black hole, I was going to fly straight into it. Yeah, I know it's been done, but what you probably don't know is that the Midway worm cluster is in near perfect alignment. With a little luck, I could perhaps, possibly, more than likely manage a hell ride through at least two of the three nearly aligned wormholes and exceed all recorded speed records for crossing the galaxy in the process. Some dumb ass that tried to suicide holds top honors now. Fact is the only ones who have ever broken existing speed records are suicider's that were so sorry they couldn't even manage to kill themselves properly. You had to live in order to receive the record you see?

     For you to think that I'm not in the least bit concerned about my inertia dampers ability to keep the skin from being physically ripped from my skeleton due to excessive acceleration would be trite. I'm also worried about stopping after I attain the tremendous velocity I expect to achieve, and the fact that lunatics and thrill seekers will probably follow my attempt whether I am successful or not. It will be the fashionable thing to do even if I only make it through the ordeal as a gleaming white skeleton destined to spend eternity hanging on display in a science room anatomy class, collecting dust and having my bony hand bent into obscene gestures.

     Well, I can think of more spectacular ways to go out in style, but I suppose a footnote in history as the first non-suicidal maniac who tried this route will suffice. And if I get to Kelly's in time, maybe the notoriety of having broken the speed record crossing the galaxy just to see her will win her heart over and she'll dump everyone from her list except me. That would be nice. I could live with that, if I live through the Midway worm cluster.

     I registered my flight plan with the authorities, minus a few important details that might tip them off as to what I was really going to attempt. They informed me there would be a half-hour delay before I could engage my drives for the trip. Wouldn't you know it; they were cleaning up a wreck at the mouth of the Edison wormhole. The laser crews were almost finished with disintegrating the debris and backed up space traffic would clear soon after.

     I needed my shortcut more than ever now. I considered calling Kelly, but I knew I would be off her list before the toll charges were debited from my account. My normal route would have gotten me there forty-five minutes late, and even that route was through the Edison.

     While my flight plan was on standby awaiting release, I had plenty of time to reconsider what I was about to do. Thinking about the last time that I saw Kelly, I realized that she didn't seem as happy to see me as I was to see her. Actually, she spent most of her time with the other men at the party. It's probably just my imagination. Like I said, I was late getting there last time.

     Then I got to thinking that her communications link seemed to be busy quite a bit the past few weeks. I had to set my calling unit for unlimited connection attempts and sometimes it took several hours before I could get through. Twice she used the excuse that she had left the empty line open by mistake. It could happen I suppose.

     When I finally received permission to engage my drives, I was appalled by the realization that I had forgotten to recalculate my departure point to take into account my new position in orbit due to the extra time I had spent waiting for traffic to clear. I was now on the opposite side of earth and had to either travel back to my original position that I had plotted my flight plan from at the posted planetary orbital speed limit of 17.5k mph, or recalculate my point of origin. Either option would set me back another half-hour. I opted for repositioning to my original plotted departure point and shaved five minutes off the time by speeding. Just my luck, a roving local patrol caught me. They fined me and made sure I sat idle for ten minutes as an additional required punishment.

     Intuitively, I should have recognized the delays as something more than just an odd coincidence. On top of the feelings of uncertainty I was already confronted with about Kelly, it would have been easy to simply wash my hands of the crazy plan I had. Still, there was something to be said about the allure of a beautiful woman, and what a man would put himself through in order to win her favors. I was just such a man and threw all caution to the wind as I engaged the gravity-drives.

     My ship was called 'The Flighty One'. It had a tendency towards being excessively sensitive. In other words, if it had wheels like a land vehicle, I wouldn't chance kicking the tires to test their worthiness for fear of them exploding and more than likely causing me serious bodily injury.

     I handled The Flighty One with kid gloves. I lived with the comforting thought that tender loving care was never more than a space repair bay away. As long as I didn't stray too far off the beaten path, I felt reasonably safe crossing the galaxy. There was always a polite and enterprising tug pilot at the ready to rake me across the coals with inflated charges for towing me to his brother-in-laws five point service bay. The five-point service often seemed to consist of only checking to see: if you need fuel, what kind of fuel you need, how much fuel your ship will hold, if you want a fill up or partial load and if your credit is good.

     On my way at last, I ran a full systems check to ensure my chances of survivability. Things were looking pretty good; three yellow warning lights glowed dimly on the systems ready panel, and only one red light. The harsh red glare indicated that the deceleration module was offline. I tapped the offending light with my knuckle and then slammed it with the palm of my hand. It went out, obviously a faulty indicator. It wasn't the first time it had acted up.

     The yellow lights didn't concern me. I already knew I had an atmosphere leak, which was no big deal. I had plenty of air to breath for the trip, and I could always jump in my suit if I had to. The other two lights indicated high engine temperature and an overfilled waste bin. The overheating engine would return to normal once the effects of the wormhole accelerated The Flighty One past the capabilities of its engines. And the bulging waste bin? I hate taking out the garbage, doesn't everyone?

     Finally the Edison wormhole loomed ahead in my view screen. Traffic had returned to normal with the three marked lanes showing only a light variety of personal pleasure crafts. A modern, ultra sleek speedster that looked oddly familiar pulled up behind me, followed for a minute and then swerved along side me signaling for a com link. All ships monitored a standard frequency where their com units could then negotiate for an unoccupied, private channel. My unit only operated in the lower bands.

     "You've got to be kidding me," the voice from the speedster said.

     "What?" I asked.

     "This frequency is older than I am! You know you can update your hardware, don't you?"

     "Of course I do, but my Beckon Twelve unit is in the repair shop," I lied. "I'm using my backup."

     "Sure, sure. Look, you're leaking something all over the place, there's a vapor trail clouding all three lanes behind you."

     "Oh, don't worry about me, it's nothing serious," I said.

     "I'm not worried about you pal, I just had my hull polished and you're getting crap all over it!"

     "So? Quit tail-tagging me! "You can pull around in front of me if you want."

     "I know I can. And I plan to just as soon as I get your registration numbers so I can file a complaint and report you as a navigation hazard."

     At least they'll be able to follow my vapor trail if I break down, I thought.

     "It's only an oxygen leak," I assured him, "with a little human excrement mixed in perhaps, nothing dangerous."

     "Shit!" he yelled.

     "Yes, I said human excrement didn't I?"

     "I can't read your registration tag, there's so much crud built up over it!"

     "I missed my last appointment at the polishing shop, sorry."

     "You're lucky I'm pressed for time pal. I'll be waiting for you at Farside, if you even make it."

     With that last taunting jab, he raced past me with a flourish and into the mouth of the Edison wormhole. I wondered what he meant when he said he'd be waiting for me at Farside. I thought about it for a while -- two seconds at least -- when it dawned on me where I had seen his ship before. It was parked right out in front of Kelly's at her last party.

     Wormholes are nice in that they not only transport you across vast distances almost instantaneously, but in doing so they boost your speed to otherwise unobtainable levels. The Edison was short as far as wormholes are concerned. It's a good thing too because they are a bit disorienting to navigate. Sniffers and shooters love to get all doped up on their favorite drug and fly through wormholes as slow as they can. You can often pick up their captivating chatter on subspace channels. You'd hear things like 'pretty colors' and 'did you see that one' and 'groovy'. You would think they were straight out of the nineteen sixties psychedelic age or something.

     I was never one to pay that much attention to regular maintenance or consider expensive upgrade options for The Flighty One. As long as it got me to where I was going, I was happy. One thing I did upgrade on her though was the inertia damper. I couldn't afford to do anything with the engines, and with the common use of wormholes for optimizing travel time, the inertia dampers seemed like the obvious choice for modifications.

     All the inertia dampers really did is create a personal, bubble like force field around your body to protect you from the tremendous g-forces you are subjected to during abnormal acceleration. My engines weren't capable of abnormal acceleration of course, but extensive use of the wormholes for my shortcuts certainly could.

     As The Flighty One entered the Edison, the automatics on the inertia dampers kicked in and the normal blurring spatial distortion began filling the view screens. I never ate before going into a wormhole, the corkscrewing coaster ride made it difficult to keep your stomachs contents where they belonged, for me at least. One thing you didn't want to do is lose your lunch while inside the personal sized inertia damper force field. It's like trying to dodge raindrops in a torrential downpour; it can't be done.

     I could just make out the guy in the speedster on my long-range scanners as I exited the Edison. He was heading straight for the Midway Worm Cluster. I was headed in the opposite direction towards the Barium Black Hole. He must have spotted me too because he buzzed me on the com unit again.

     "Hey, dumb ass! You're going the wrong way," he laughed. "Kelly and I will be missing you at the party, but we'll find something to keep us occupied while we're waiting!"

     "In case you haven't noticed, at the rate you're going, you'll be a half hour late," I shot back. "Kelly and I will have a new list made up when you get there, and you're not going to be on it."

     "You idiot, you're not going to try to fly through the Barium are you? Did you fill out the suicide permit?" He asked.

     "Permit? I don't need no stinking Permit!"

     Those old twentieth century westerns I watched sure came in handy when you needed something snappy to taunt an arrogant piss ant with. Pretty boy sure was getting on my nerves.

     "Well I guess Kelly and I won't be seeing you after all, will we?" He asked. "And by the way, Kelly doesn't have a list anymore."

     We flew in opposite directions and out of communication range before I could taunt him further. I couldn't help but wonder about Kelly's list though. Could it be true? Was my suicidal act of devoted perseverance to make it to Kelly's a waste of time? It didn't matter. Pretty boy might just be jerking my chain. He was the one who was going to be late. I would be waiting for him, even if Kelly were through with me.

     The Barium Black Hole loomed menacingly ahead. Even though it was a favorite checkout lane for the permit carrying suicide cases, it was also a little-known fact that it could be successfully navigated. Not that normal travelers with undamaged minds would attempt such a foolhardy thing. But desperation leads one to become more creative and to push the envelope beyond the point where the lure of fame, fortune, or the possibility of a hot date overrides concern for ones safety. Or more simply put, love makes you do stupid things.

     Much to my surprise, whatever bravado it was that set me upon this insane path to win Kelly's heart over suddenly abandoned me. My second thoughts came seconds to late unfortunately. The Barium had me in its greedy grasp and was not about to be denied its prize.

     The Flighty One seemed about to split at her seams as the speed gauge blurred beyond readability and shorted out. Cautionary signs posted inside the black hole flashed by instructing pilots to transmit their suicide permit registration number and a final farewell message if they wished. Violators will be prosecuted. The fact that no one was expected to survive served to point out the glaring absurdity with which us humans are governed in our daily lives. You can't fine a dead spacer.

     While my inertia damper was totally oblivious to its own inadequacies, I on the other hand was experiencing first hand what it felt like to be crushed mercilessly by a mutant grape press from hell. I had to grab an oxygen facemask, doubling the output of air to force my chest to expand because I was unable to breathe on my own. What ever made me think I could do this? I looked down at my normally bulging belly only to find it looked as though I had lost thirty pounds, but my width had expanded side to side by about a foot!

     As my tortured mind struggled to make sense of the idiocy of my decision to make the Barium run, I attempted to command my disobeying limbs to move so that I could at least be assured I was still alive. With a Herculean effort, I tried to move my hand up in front of my eyes. Just as I did, I blasted through the other side of the Barium Black Hole, the crushing acceleration leveled off and my hand flew up into my face and hit me right in the nose. The indignity of it all. I survived the black hole unscathed only to receive a bloody nose by punching myself in the face. The untold risks of space travel never cease to amaze me.

     Now that I was once again in full control of my facilities, I had to give serious though as to whether to continue on in my quest to put a sparkle in Kelly's eye at the risk of loosing the sparkle in mine. Did I really want to show her how much I adore her with such conviction that I would recklessly abandon any concern for my own safety just to breath the same air she exhales? Or was it because I simply wanted to punch pretty boy in the face?

     While mulling all this over, I reached for a spill cloth to wipe my bloodied nose and some unconscious force made my hand inexplicably and quite accidentally brush up against the destination override switch. A klaxon should have immediately sounded. Red lights and bells and flashing strobes should have been activated. A message should have appeared on my monitor, "Abort destination, pilot? Are you sure?"

     A sinking feeling came over me as I sat in the oppressive silence of The Flighty One's pilot seat. I had changed my mind. I was allowed to do that, wasn't I? My hand knew that I had changed my mind before my mind did. That's why it had tested the abort switch. It was the same stupid hand that had engaged the destination navigator. The same stupid hand that had punched my own nose had tested the abort switch and it had failed.

     Ok, I can deal with this. This is what I was born for. I would either make it through the Midway Worm Cluster, or I wouldn't. I would either get to Kelly's first and punch pretty boy in the face, or they would find me drifting in space, trapped inside my inertia damper. A skeleton with the skin ripped from its frame and deposited in a puddle along with all the other gore at its feet. Probably look like I was soaking my skeletal feet in raspberry pudding, or maybe Jell-O.

     No! I wouldn't let it end that way. I was almost traveling faster than any sane human had ever gone before. I refused to waste my notable achievement in death. I still had twenty minutes until I reached Midway. I knew I could survive this! All I had to do is figure out how.

     The answer turned out to be as simple as it should have been obvious. The effectiveness of the inertia damper was limited basically by one thing, that being the amount of power available to operate it. Under normal conditions, the engines obviously worked harder to accelerate the ship, thereby allowing only a small portion of the engines total power output to maintain standard ship functions, including the inertia dampers. The Flighty One had already accelerated beyond her engines capabilities to help. So essentially, I could apply one hundred percent of the engine power output to the inertia dampers! Now all I had to do is figure out a way to collect and divert what amounted to ten times the normal current that the wiring was designed to handle. I had seventeen minutes left before I reached Midway.

     I punched up my spare parts inventory on the monitor knowing I had three spare Fluxor converters. I constantly had to rotate and rebuild them because of the cheap blend of fuel I used. If I connected them in parallel, that would supply enough juice. Now I wondered what I had lying around I could use for a heavy-duty power conduit. Scrolling through the inventory, I came up empty.

     Then I remembered! I hadn't taken out the garbage! I had bought a discounted case of armored cables quite a while ago, back when you had to cable lock your ship to a docking post so no one would steal it. Once they discovered the faulty security chip that allowed hijackers to gain access to your locked ship, the armor cables became obsolete. Four or five weeks ago, I had finally thrown away the last one I had kicking around. Wait! I must have emptied the garbage since then. Even I wouldn't go a month without... Well, yeah, maybe I would.

     With fifteen minutes left I ran to the garbage bay. A pale greenish haze hung ominously outside the bay door. This could be worse than I though, I warned myself. I swore right then and there that if I made it through this crazy plan alive, I would force myself to take out the garbage at least twice a month, every three weeks at the very least! Luckily my portable air mask was still dangling from my neck so I put it on.

     I activated the door and as it hissed open, a stinging foul gas drifted out of the compartment. My eyes watered so badly from the noxious fumes of the fermenting garbage that I was afraid I was going to dehydrate before I could dig through the trash and find the armor cable. But find it I did, and none too soon either. The low-pressure warning was buzzing on my portable oxygen mask. I made a mad dash for the door out of the garbage bay and got it closed just as my air reserve expired.

     With the armor cable wrapped around my neck, I ran to the spare parts cabinet and got the three fluxor converters. They all still worked, but I had only gotten around to rebuilding two of them. They would have to do. Now, back to the engine room!

     I flipped the power output off and the ship switched over to the backup batteries. In five minutes I had the three spare converters connected for a total of four counting the one already online. I couldn't find a connector big enough to attach the armor cable to the output terminal though. I guess it's a good thing I'm a sentimental kind of guy. When my grandfather died I was given his old toolbox and I still kept it around. Digging around in it I found an ancient tool called vise grips. You adjust them to whatever size you need to clamp something with and when you squeeze the handles, the jaws lock right down. I simply clamped the armor cable to the power output terminal and wrapped it with tape I found in the tool box. Duct tape. I wondered why would anyone name tape after a water foul...

     I checked my timepiece and saw I still had six minutes left before I reached the Midway Worm Cluster. I ran back to the control room, unrolling the armor cable behind me as I went. Of course I immediately realized the power connector on the inertia damper was too small for the armor cable as well. A trip back to grandpa's toolbox and I discovered one more pair of vice grips. I grabbed the tape too.

     Finally! I was ready! Gasping for breath from all the running around, I slumped into the command chair and strapped myself in. It was time to see if it all worked. I flipped the inertia damper switch to the on position. Nothing happened. Wait! A flashing red light lit up on the control panel. Shit! It was a low battery warning, I had forgotten to turn the engine power output back on!

     I undid the seat restraints as fast as I could and ran back to the engine room to re-engage the power disconnect. I stumbled back to the command chair and bounced right off the fully functioning inertia damper! I had forgotten to turn it back off before I engaged the power!

     I should have just given up. It had become blatantly obvious to me that I was doomed to failure. However, my devious little plan had developed into something much more than just a simple trip to Kelly's. What good would it do to arrive at Farside dead? As much as I hated to admit it, I was quite sure Kelly was finished with me anyway, so what was the point? Oh yeah, I remember now. Pretty boy. Fact is, I think pretty boy had been my main incentive ever since he passed me back at the Edison Wormhole.

     The man was just too perfect. He had a perfect ship, a perfect haircut and a perfect life. Anyone who could afford to have his ships hull polished deserved a punch in the nose as far as I was concerned. A quick look told me I had two minutes left.

     I ran back to the engine room and shut off the power disconnect. I ran back to the control room and shut off the inertia damper. I stumbled back to the engine room and re-engaged the disconnect. Then I crawled back to the control room totally spent. By the time I made it to the door I had fifteen seconds left. On my hands and knees, I dragged myself up into the command chair and strapped in. With one second to spare, I mashed the inertia damper switch and entered the mouth of Midway One, the first of the three Midway Wormholes.

     I was amazed to discover that I didn't feel a thing as The Flighty One accelerated well beyond its design specifications. Actually, it wasn't the overall speed itself that posed the danger; it was the stress of acceleration that taxed the design specs. Once you reach a certain velocity, you simply continue at that velocity until you either decelerate or put on another burst of speed. At least the extra power to the inertia dampers was working fine for the moment. I wish I could say the same for The Flighty one.

     One thing was for certain. If the loose nuts, bolts and rivets that were flying around in the control room were any indication of the condition of the ship, I had better suit up during the two minutes I had between the exit of Midway One and the mouth of Midway Two.

     As I burst through the wormhole exit I noticed my com screen flashing a message to transmit my suicide permit registration number to the authorities immediately. A glance at the control panel showed nothing but a mass of red indicators with only one green light shining through all by itself. I'll be damned if it wasn't the garbage bay indicator. The bay door had blown and my garbage must have gotten jettisoned somewhere in the wormhole. That's when I heard him. It was pretty boy again.

     "You asshole! I'll get you for this! It'll take weeks to get this crud off my hull! I'll have your pilotís license for this! I'll..."

     I didn't hear the rest of his captivating conversation. I guess I was going too fast for his signal to catch up with me. I knew now that this would probably be The Flighty One's last hurrah. It would be a miracle if even I survived this ill-advised quest, let alone my ship.

     While struggling into my excursion suit, a crushing guilt came over me as I considered that my selfish want's and needs overcame my loyalty to the only thing in life that should really matter to me. While The Flighty One had its own long list of quirks and flaws, she was the one true friend I could usually always count on. She was the only home I had known since my father had kicked me out of the house because he felt it was time his thirty-year-old son left the nest. And even if Pretty Boy thought nothing more of us than a garbage scowl, I knew that my ship meant more to me than even Kelly ever would to him.

     Just before re-engaging the inertia damper, I tried the destination override switch again, hoping against hope that I could save The Flighty One from a certain death. But it was no good. With only a few seconds to spare, I engaged the inertia damper expecting to see The Flighty One disintegrate from around me as I entered the Midway Two wormhole.

     How could I ever have been so stupid? What good is living if you're not around to enjoy it? As the disorientation effect of the wormhole blurred my vision and turned my stomach in summersaults, I watched as The Flighty One came apart before my eyes, piece by gut wrenching piece. Sheet metal vibrated loose and flew around the control room like newspaper in the wind. Smoke poured from control panels as circuits shorted out in a blaze of fireworks that would be the envy of even the most skilled pyrotechnics experts on the Fourth of July.

     And here I was, all comfortable and cozy in my little cocoon of protection; physically oblivious to the torture I had willingly inflicted on my poor ship. The smoke filled air of the control room was quickly venting into space through several stress cracks in The Flighty One's hull. One last shower of sparks spewed out from underneath the control console like projectile vomit gushing from a deathly sick child. Midway Two was now behind us.

     I shut off the inertia damper only then realizing that somehow the engines must have survived. Otherwise my protective bubble would have burst and I would have been nothing but a pale pink mist floating around in space. Pretty Boy would have been laughing all the way to the hull wash.

     I should be happy, shouldn't I? I had accomplished what I had set out for. I checked the time on my suit's wrist display and saw I would be at Kelly's a full hour early, not that I even cared at this point. I can only thank the powers that be for the fact that all three Midway wormholes weren't in perfect alignment.

     Walking through the ankle deep debris piled around me, I shook my head in humble admiration of The Flighty One's tenacity to survive. It would have been pointless to do a systems check. I was pretty sure there were no operating systems left to run diagnostics on, other than the engines. Even the nav computer had been torn from its mounting. I reached down and picked it up thinking that maybe I could salvage a few of the system components when to my surprise the display fluttered back to life.

     I stared at the thing so impressed with the fact that it still functioned that at first my mind was unable to comprehend what I was seeing. Finally it sunk in and the only thing keeping my jaw from hitting the floor was the fact that my head was encased in my helmet.

     GAHHHHHH!!! The Flighty One was on direct course right into the mouth of the Midway Three wormhole! When I had originally programmed my course I had only hoped to navigate two of the three Midway wormholes, not all three!

     I was dumbfounded. I dropped the nav computer like it was a maggot infested piece of rotting meat. I had no idea how fast The Flighty One was going, but if my calculations were anywhere near being close, I had seven minutes before I drew my last breath. Seven minutes to oblivion.

     My head snapped around in jerking spasms that can only be caused by experiencing hopeless desperation, looking for a way out of this mess. I was in my own little repeating time warp like a phonograph needle stuck in a scratched groove on an old time vinyl record. I looked to the left; I looked to the right, and then back to the left again. My fear-poisoned mind was drawing a complete blank. There weren't enough of the ships systems left functioning to perform any magic with. The only things that still worked were the engines and the inertia damper. Even the nav computer had shorted out when I dropped it.

     The engines and the inertia dampers... the engines and the... wait! Maybe there was something! I didn't know if it had ever been tried before, but I had no choice.

     The protective field generated by the inertia dampers was scalable! It had to be in order to encompass several crew members at the same time on bigger ships. And the ever larger passenger ships had massive inertia chambers built into the ships framework. All I had to do is expand the inertia dampers protective field so that it protected the entire hull of The Flighty One!

     Normally ships were retired long before they reached the point where their design specs were taxed beyond its limitations by navigating wormholes. Newer ships didn't need an all-encompassing inertia damper simply because their specs were so much higher due to new materials and design upgrades that they could withstand normal wormhole travel. The Flighty One was never designed to be put through the maniacal punishment I had put her through. And while my inertia damper was only designed to protect a single occupant, I had to believe that with the full power of the engines shunted to it through the nearly indestructible armor cable, I could tweak the settings enough to save The Flighty One! It was my only chance!

     Good God! I had wasted nearly two minutes figuring out how not to die! I had to get busy.

     The ships control panel keyboard had shorted out along with most of the other systems so the first thing I had to do was attach a replacement so I could reprogram the dampers software. I hurried to the parts cabinet and took a diagnostic keyboard from the shelf. I often used them to run tests while working underneath the main console where I couldn't reach its built in keyboard. I ran back and plugged it in but still needed some way to see the code I was typing; the console monitor was blown as well. Time was melting away at an ever-increasing prodigious rate.

     Having the tantalizing taste of possible success yanked from within my reach by yet another seemingly insurmountable system failure, I quite honestly lost it. I threw a fit and violently assaulted the offending piece of equipment. Raining blow upon blow with my fists and even resorting to kicking the dead console, I quickly tired and slumped into the command chair in defeat.

     As if to mock my attempt at imposing my will upon it, the console gave off a brief flicker of light. It then promptly regurgitated the slimy green cooling fluid that normally flowed throughout its inner workings into my lap. The Flighty One had just puked on me. Having successfully lowered my self-esteem to that of a waste receptacle, the offending console seemed more than satisfied and lit up with a flourish. I was never so happy to be covered in slime.

     I instantly went to work. Only having about a minute and a half left, there was no time to test the code changes I was making. It was a little awkward typing with my excursion suit gloves on, but I managed. I finished the new software code and hit enter. As I reached for and engaged the switch for the inertia dampers, one final pencil thin stream of slimy cooling fluid spurted from the console hitting me right in my helmets faceplate. Fine! Be that way!

     With a wracking shudder, the barely living husk of The Flighty One carried me into the Midway Three wormhole.

     Obviously, we survived or I wouldn't be around telling you about it. The trick with the inertia damper worked. Neither the ship nor I suffered further catastrophic damage during our travels through the third Midway wormhole. I did throw up in my excursion suit, a final insult as payment for my astounding accomplishment. The Flighty One was so full of atmosphere leaks that I had to remain in my suit, soaking in my own vomit for what seemed like hours.

     As I neared Kelly's planet at a record shattering speed, I tried to engage the deceleration module, but of course it didn't work. At least not until I beat on it in uncontrollable panic with a wrench. Then it worked fine, just like it always did. I landed on her front lawn three hours early and climbed out of The Flighty One just as I was, covered in nasty green slime from the control console and nearly swimming in my own puke. I pulled off my helmet and the nasty stuff splattered all over her synthetic grass. I swear the grass turned brown right before my eyes.

     Kelly stepped out of the house to see who had arrived. She took one look at me and the smoking hulk of The Flighty One, screamed and made a beeline right back inside. Several security men rushed out but when they got within ten feet of me they stopped dead in their tracks. One of them commanded me to stay right where I was and issued an order I couldn't quite hear to his partner. His partner ran of around the house and a few seconds later, the lawn sprinklers came on. Why on earth anyone would need lawn sprinklers for a synthetic lawn is way beyond me.

     However, I was getting a much-deserved shower and I proceeded to completely disrobe in order to savor the refreshing deluge to its fullest extent. The security guard looked upon me in stupefying disbelief as he made a call on his radio.

     By now other ships were arriving, evidently having heard about my incredible voyage across the universe. The only man alive to have ever navigated the Edison wormhole, the Barium black hole and the all three of the Midway worm holes and lived to be fined for the illegal act.

     The lawn sprinklers finally shut off and I ducked back into The Flighty One and tossed a bath rob around my nakedness. A space patrol landed just as I emerged from the hatch. The first thing they did was issue me a fist full of tickets including but not limited to one for trying to suicide without a permit, exceeding the speed a laser speed gun was able to record and for space littering. I tried to explain to them that it was a garbage bin malfunction but they ignored my pleas. Finally, after a few hours of extensive questioning, they let me go.

     By then, the real party that Kelly was hosting was set to begin. It was made quite clear that I was no longer welcomed at her social functions and I was just getting ready to leave when pretty boy landed his speedster right next to The Flighty One. I'll be damned if he hadn't stopped and gotten his hull polished again.

     I stood there smiling at him as he climbed out of the sleek two seater and swaggered toward me. I was going to let him just walk on by, I really was. I had accumulated enough summonses for one day. But he had to open his mouth.

     "Since when did they start allowing garbage scowls to park in the front..."

     I broke his nose before he could finish.

     Three months later when I was released from solitary confinement I was greeted by a multitude of newsmen who wanted my exclusive story, authors who wanted to write a book about me and several executives who wanted to make a movie about my short spotlight in fame. I turned them all down. All I wanted was to be left alone.

     There is one offer I did accept though. The original ship manufacturer of The Flighty One offered to completely restore her. She would be as good as the day she rolled off the assembly line. It was good PR they said.

     I finally drifted off into eventual anonymity. My speed record has never been broken and I have my sights set on a new girl. Don't worry though, she only lives on the other side of the planet. I doubt I could get into any trouble taking a shortcut to her place, but you never know...

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The following comments are for "Short Cut To Farside"
by The Hal

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