Escape from Earth with Professor Dirac and Doctor Pauli (III)

Chapter 3: Networking saved my life

Matt King

Doctor Pauli awoke startled. Around him he heard faint shouting, he suspected muffled by the bookcases intruding onto him. Why had he allowed Professor Dirac to bring so many? He fumbled for the light switch, before blinding himself with a flash. After allowing his eyes to adjust, he threw on his nearest clothes – which were, as usual, a shirt and tie. Very rarely would Pauli be seen in anything else. His motto was “Look smart, think smart,” and no one could question his performance with the former.

“Morning,” he murmured while hurrying past Dirac.

The professor did not respond and was instead sat encapsulated in a book that, based on the title, probably required multiple PhDs to make it past the contents page. Pauli was still following the hubbub as it led towards the bridge of the spacecraft. The voice of Mr Heisenberg, the mechanic of the ship, could be heard clearly.

“I’m telling you the facts of the situation. It’s up to you to tell me what our solution is!”

“Well you’re the only one on this spacecraft qualified to solve the problem!” Retorted Captain Bohr, with a fierce scowl across his face.

The doctor came alongside them and looked down at the computer screen they were hunched over, with its many bright lights. Though spaceflight had been achieved in the past, the technology present in this rocket would be a shock for even the most optimistic of futurists. A positive of this was that the computer screen they all peered at was more similar in size to a desk than a monitor. Its turquoise hue lit up the faces of the men, currently staring at several blinking red lights surrounded by the outline of the ship. The advanced detection systems had instantly discovered the problem. However, sadly the issue the ship currently faced was also caused by the same computational systems.

“Would someone mind explaining?” Interjected Pauli, clasping his hands together nervously. He might not understand much about how spacecraft worked, but in his opinion red flashing lights tended to bring bad news.

“I won’t sugar coat it for you. Essentially, the spacecraft has somehow ended up diverting our oxygen supplies out of the ship. We still have plenty stored – but at the moment, none of it is coming into our living areas.” Explained Heisenberg.

“And he has no idea what to do!” Shouted Bohr, who was now clearly beginning to let his emotions get the better of him. “You had one job…”

Pauli thought for a moment. He had absolutely no idea how to solve this problem – in fact, he admitted to himself, he still barely understood what the problem was. However, he was sure Heisenberg was on the ship for a reason, and hopefully, that reason was his skill with rockets.

“Have you investigated the source of the problem?” Pauli asked the mechanic, who still had his eyes glued to the red lights as if expecting the strength of his gaze to turn them green.

Heisenberg spoke softly. “I didn’t bother. I think it’s all controlled by the computer running the ship – we may not be able to do anything without turning it off, which would throw us off course.” He paused, still staring at the screen. “But the oxygen pipes are in the engine room, down at the base of the rocket.”

The doctor stood up straight. Sure, maybe they were doomed. But he wasn’t going to wait idly to find out. He grabbed Heisenberg and pulled him away from his depressed musings.

“Take me there!” Insisted Pauli.

Though the top floors of the spacecraft were kept in their pristine condition, as Pauli and Heisenberg descended deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship their surroundings began to worsen. It was clear the ship’s designer had not planned for anyone to reach such a low level, and it almost seemed like their path was opposed. Narrow metal ladders reached downwards, their slippery rungs barely visible in the dim lighting. Still, Pauli pushed onwards, avoiding pipes crisscrossing the confined walkways, and dragging Heisenberg along behind him. Eventually, they reached what Heisenberg announced was their destination, a small, dark room with its walls covered with pipes of varying sizes and labels. The reason it was called the engine room was clear, based on the heat and rumbling coming from not too far below. Pauli reached into his pocket and pulled out a torch, illuminating the room.

“Which of these are the oxygen pipes?” Asked Pauli, scanning all of the different pipes. He hoped that Heisenberg knew what he was doing, as there were way too many for him to inspect them all.

“The yellow ones can carry oxygen. And they also look like they have a valve attached – so we can just turn the valves to change how much oxygen flows through them.” Mumbled the mechanic, clearly still not happy.

Pauli smiled, “That’s great – we can just turn them all to their maximum then?”

“Sadly not,” came the reply, “if any of the pipes have too much flowing through them or if the oxygen goes in the wrong direction they’ll burst. We have to balance it all out exactly. That’s why we get the computer to do it for us.”

The doctor looked around thoughtfully. It wasn’t as simple as he anticipated. Heisenberg interrupted his thinking: “I do have this diagram though:

Maybe you can figure out how much we have to open each of the pipes to fix the problem? We need the maximum amount possible going through the ship, as our storage always supplies the same amount of oxygen.”

Pauli looked intently at the diagram and pulled a notepad and pen out of another pocket. This was one of the many occasions he was glad he was prepared.

Seeing Pauli’s enthusiasm, Heisenberg explained as best he could. “O is where the oxygen comes out of – it’s the supply. S is space, ’cause we have to pump it all out by the engine at the end, to help burn the fuel. And the rest of the letters are rooms, I can’t remember which one is which. Each pipe can have no more than the amount in the number next to it going through – but remember you need the maximum possible going through, from O to S. See if you can work out how much oxygen should go through each pipe.”

Scroll down for the solution!

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Before he’d finished speaking, the doctor had begun scribbling in his notebook. He was turning over page after page with different options. This was not an easy problem, but the fact that his breathing depended on him solving it certainly forced him to think hard. His head snapped upwards. “I’ve solved it!” He shouted to Heisenberg, “Here, just follow this diagram and the pipes will be fine.”

The mechanic leapt to his feet with uncharacteristic vigour, spurred on by the knowledge that with a few simple adjustments to the valves the ship would be saved. He weaved his way around the pipes, twisting each valve to the correct position.

“Now let’s hope that works.” He said, with a nervous smile…

Next came the process of clambering back up to the bridge, where they could evaluate their success. Their journey upwards was much simpler, however. They knew where they were going, and the draw of the light was pulling them back up. In the bridge, cheering could be heard. The captain was moving with such energy that it might be called dancing – though he himself would strongly deny such a suggestion. “Well done lads!” He shouted to Pauli and Heisenberg. Heisenberg rushed over to check the display and was greeted by green lights across the ship – they had succeeded.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

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