My entry for the May short story competition on the Science Fiction readers, writers, collectors, and artists group on LinkedIn. I’ve been thinking of writing something slightly more substantial around the idea of the Roman Candle FTL Drive. The following story is obviously based on Wodehouse. Lemme know what you think.
“Roman Candle drives are simple things,” declared Wilbur. He brandished a large adjustable wrench in his right hand. “The mathematics are hairy, I’ll grant you that, but the machinery itself is trivially simple.”
He made a small declaratory tap of the wrench on the base of the auxiliary capacitor bank. “Tesla could have built this,” he added, further clarifying his intentions with a slightly harder tap.
“Sir, you’re likely to get your jacket covered in grease,” said Fox, attempting to draw Wilbur’s attention away, and potentially avert tragedy. “If you’ll allow me, why don’t I take a look at it while you chart our course?”
“An excellent idea,” said Wilbur, heartily, and handed the wrench to his valet. “Wouldn’t do for us to run into a big rock or some such.” He headed forwards to the ship’s relatively luxuriously appointed bridge (it had leather command chairs).
Fox adjusted his monocle, then thought again and placed it in his outer jacket pocket. “Here kitty, kitty,” he said quietly so that Wilbur wouldn’t hear him. The man doted on the cat. “Damn cat. I bet it urinated on a wire or something.”
He fished in one of his trouser pockets and eventually pulled out a small treat, which he waved around in what he thought might be an enticing manner. A pair of furry ears protruded from behind some bulky, chrome-plated machinery.
“Tsk, tsk, here kitty, kitty.” The entire cat cautiously shimmied forth, keeping a safe distance from Fox. Neither trusted the other, with cause. Fox waved the treat around a bit more, then tossed it through the hatch and into the corridor. The cat stared at him for several long seconds.
Fox jerked, as if he was about to launch himself at the cat. It twitched slightly, but didn’t move, calling his bluff. “Enough of this,” he said, and charged at it.
“Not that direction,” he muttered, catching himself on a large brass pipe in order to change his momentum into a different direction. The two of them circled the room several times, the cat obviously moving with far greater alacrity.
Triangulating, he managed to cut it off so that the exit hatch became its safest escape route. It hissed at him. “What?” he said. “Get out of here. Scat! Go have your treat.” It left, with a dirty look backwards at him. Fox shut the hatch behind it.
He reached into his pocket for his monocle. Not there. He patted several other pockets. Not there either. Must have fallen out. He peered around nearsightedly. After several more moments of futility, he fished out a small, collapsible pair of glasses, unfolded them, and perched them on his nose instead.
“Where were we?” he asked himself out loud. He went over to a corner and picked up the wrench. He must have thrown it at the cat during their chase, although he didn’t quite recall doing that.
“Aha!” he said as he spotted the problem.
A few minutes later, he popped up into the bridge. Wilbur was engaged in a testy conversation with the ship’s AI, which insisted that it knew the correct route.
“Sir?” asked Fox, attracting his attention. “I found the problem. There were mouse droppings in the engine room. Must have come aboard with those passengers you picked up on the last trip. Filthy buggers. They ate right through some wiring. The mice, I mean, not the passengers.”
“No wonder Pelly has been back there so often. I know you don’t like him very much, but you have to admit he knows his job.”
At that point, a bell range, telling them that their ship’s plasma cloud had charged sufficiently. The AI acted first, before Wilbur could send them off course, and they leaped forwards into the abyss in a cloud of furious sparks and electrical discharges.