James and Sarah dashed across the deck, playing tag. Uncle Simon watched from a distance, sipping tea in his usual chair up on the forecastle. He smiled; he was glad his nephew and niece were staying with him for the Summer, and even more glad that it looked like they were having fun. Time had flown by over the course of their vacation, and the holiday was drawing near to an end. It would soon be time to sail back home, across the pale blue sky of the northern hemisphere. Simon stood up, a man only in his sixties he remained in excellent shape, with broad shoulders, and a weathered face that bespoke decades in the skies.
He walked over to the railing, looking down for miles and miles, to the cold waters below. He happened to see a ship sailing through the waters, and as he did he couldn’t help but laugh at such a crude means of transportation. He looked up at the vast balloon towering overhead, lifting his flying fortress above the ground, above the clouds and into the sky.
Simon turned back from the railing, checking his watch as he did so. It was near noon, and the children would no doubt soon be very hungry. He made his way down the stairs, taking one last look at the children chasing each other across the deck, absorbed in youthful energy.
He had only opened the door to descend to the kitchen when he felt a violent shake. He steadied himself against the wall, watching to see if the children were alright. They looked frightened, and nervous, but otherwise unharmed. Simoon quickly called them in, they hurried down to the control room.
They raced to the control room, and when they arrived Simon went silent as he scanned diagnostics, searching for the problem. It had been a clear day, the sky was open, the breeze small. It could only be a malfunction with the equipment. After frantic moments he spotted the problem, the pressure in the balloon was rapidly growing. If it continued, a rupture could form, they would fall from the sky, and the ship would be destroyed. He ran through scenarios, searching for the one most likely to have caused the problem. After countless calculations and constant scratching of his cranium, he had an idea. He looked at James and Sarah; they were scared but both were strong for their age. Neither had given into fear.
“James, Sarah, I need you two to go to the supply room and grab three escape suits. Can you do that for me? Then I want you to come right back here and wait for me, alright?”
“Yes, Uncle.” They said in unison. Sarah gave him a fierce hug, then dashed off after James.
After the kids were gone Simon began talking to himself, as he would always do when solving a problem. “Alright, yes, yes. If it is the supercooled helium leaking into the balloon that is causing the elevated pressure, how can we stop it? Hmm. I would need to sever the connection, and then equalize the pressure by venting some into the atmosphere. That would be simple enough, I think.” Simon formulated a plan, hoping it would work, but glad all the same that he owned an insurance policy.
In mere moments he was in the supply room, it was freezing cold, Simon instantly began shaking. He didn’t have time to grab a protective suit to be in here, he just needed to be fast. He went from tanker to tanker, checking each, hoping to find his problem, early on. All he needed was to find a tanker that was reading a massive drop in volume, and he would have his goose. On the very last one, when he had almost given up hope that he had properly diagnosed the situation, Simon found it. It was just as he had suspected.
A tanker was reading that almost half of its contents had been emptied. Simon couldn’t imagine how this could have happened, but he had no time to worry about it now. He watched as the volume continued to lower. He tried turning the valve, glad he had grabbed some gloves, yet it was stuck. He pushed on it as hard as he possibly could, digging into the floor, pressing with all of his weight. Then, with a great snap the valve ripped off. Simon began to panic; that the tanker had been tampered with was obvious, who had done it or what their motive could have been was not.
He took a step back, ripping his gloves off and running a hand through his course hair. The contents were reaching the balloon through a hose, but he couldn’t just cut it. If he did that, it would explode, and that would not be good. An idea hit him, and given the crisis, he had to act fast. He seized the clamp lying on the desk beside the tanker. Taking the hose, he squeezed it with the clamp, stopping the flow of helium. He looked back down at the pressure, relieved to see it was stabilizing. However, a large amount of gas had entered the balloon, and he knew he must deal with that. He dashed back up to the deck. Clambering up some ropes that attached the balloon to the ship, thankfully there was a precautionary feature installed that enabled it to slowly leak gas in the event of just such a problem. In mere minutes the pressure was down to a stable level and the Kanza was saved. However, now Simon faced a new problem. What stowaway was aboard his ship? And why were they trying to destroy it?