Airomem fidgeted in her chair as Mr. Prometh entered the room and strutted to the board, taking a marker between his two remaining fingers and writing in sharp, staccato bursts.
“Today,” He said to the six engineers to be, “Today, we learn theory! Today, we forget engineering in the power room in favor of physics- instead of learning which dials do what, and what levers control what, we’ll learn why they do what they do! We’ll be taking this at quite a high level- much of this is not well understood, and I have an inkling that it never was well understood.”
“Do we have to learn this?” Moaned AJ, a student to Airomem’s right, “What’s the point, if we can keep the reactors running anyways?”
Prometh whipped around and held up his hand, wiggling the three stumps as he spoke.
“I didn’t lose three of my fingers while I was under captive by the Agrarians to listen to you snivel, boy! If you don’t want to learn, then you can leave! Do you know why the Lear spent so much resources on rescuing me, despite my middle age when I was captured? It’s because of my knowledge, boy! Because if that reactor goes down, I’m the only one who knows how to fix it, until one of you takes my place.”
Then he held his hand to his stomach, “Horrible things the Agrarians did, boy. Would you want to hear more? It wasn’t just my fingers they took- oh no, they took whatever they could, bits and pieces of whatever they could peck at. Made themselves a nice Prometh soup while they had me chained down, and interrogated me on how the reactors worked! Ah, such is the price of knowledge.”
Then Prometh leaned down to look directly in Aj’s eyes from six inches away, his voice steady.
“And the best part was that I didn’t even have to keep silent- I told them everything they wanted, because their minds were not trained to receive it! I might as well have babbled nonsense, boy, nonsense about protons and neutrons and gravitational theory. And now you are turning away the knowledge that they would have killed me for! Do you want to hear more of my endurance of their torture? Do you want me to spin your nightmares for the next month? Because I can, boy.”
AJ shook his head wildly, leaning back as far away as his could, while Prometh’s face brightened.
“Good, then! Now, on to your second worst possible nightmare, physics! Class, much of what we will go over today was developed by a fellow named Einstein. Class, who was this fellow?”
“We don’t know,” Chanted the class, as they had been instructed each time the name came up in lecture.
“Correct! While we know the physics, our history going back as far as that name is not nearly as strong. Must have been a bright fellow, or group of fellows. Or maybe we’re just not as intellectual as we once were, and he was the average of the lot. Anyways, back to the physics. You see, it’s all because of this Einstein fellow that our reactor works.”
On the board, he drew a sphere, and shaded in the inner edge of the sphere before filling in a thick dot at the center.
“This sphere, class, is known as the photonic crystal barrier – inside the power room, you may have heard it being referred to as the egg. We must take the utmost care not to break the egg- it would be absolutely impossible to replace with the tools we have, and is quite fragile. And supposedly, in terms of pure material, it is more valuable than the rest of the ship combined. Now, on the inside of this crystal is radioactive matter, which means it spits out energy in the form of super high frequency light faster than AJ spits out stupid questions. The sphere acts like a mirror- all that energy bounces around the inside, none of it can escape, one hundred percent down to the very last photon is conserved. And it meets the target here, in the center, which absorbs it and converts it to electrical energy. Do you follow?”
“Yes, even I knew that,” Said AJ, “And everything inside the sphere is deadly, like a fire or poison, that can kill us if it escapes.”
“Yes, or can be put to great use! You see, that target is able to send the energy outside the sphere in the form of a different type of light waves which pass through the photonic crystal as if it were clear glass! One type of light bounces around the inside, the other type moves freely through- similar to how soup will trickle through the prongs of a fork, but beans cannot fall through the gaps. Now we can use that transmitted energy, or the soup dripping through the cracks, to run the engines, to power the lights, or however else we see fit. Now, does anyone see the problem with this?”
Airomem raised her hand, and Prometh jabbed at her with his two fingers.
“The ship requires different amounts of energy at different times,” She said as Prometh beamed, “But the radioactive elements break down at a constant rate.”
“Precisely, precisely!” He said, “As I’ve stated, the crystal is incredibly fragile. This means that there cannot be moving parts on the inside, and it’s best that there isn’t, as one tiny malfunction would mean our doom. In addition, we have to choose a radioactive material that naturally expels energy slowly, so that if they crystal ever does break, like it did on the other end of the ship, the nuclear reaction cannot spiral out of control. So very tricky, so very tricky, to create something like this! Something that can give enough power to run the ship when needed but will fizzle out otherwise. Now, does anyone know how this can be accomplished?”
Airmomem shook her head, and when the rest of the class saw her, they followed her lead.
“Ah, that’s quite unfortunate.” Continued Prometh, “Every year I hope to have an Einstein in my class, but I have yet to be lucky. You see, this is what he figured out- he found out that under the effects of extreme gravity, you can actually change how time flows! So bear with me, and try not to tie your brains in a knot, but by creating an artificial gravity field inside the sphere, we can make the material appear to decompose faster on the outside. Or, in this case, we apply an extremely strong anti-gravity field if we need power, which makes the material inside age faster than us, and therefore spit out energy quicker! But creating gravitational fields requires a tremendous amount of energy, so the more energy we need, the more we have to burn to maintain that field and consequently speed up the reaction. Understood?”
“No,” Said AJ, as Airomem cocked her head to the side, “It seems like circular math.”
“Good,” Prometh responded, “That’s the best comment you’ve made so far, AJ. It is indeed- a feedback loop, to be precise. If more energy is needed, then we crank up the gravitational fields. But that requires more energy! So we keep cranking them up, until we can sustain the ship’s power. Anyways, I didn’t expect you to understand it all. Hell, even I don’t -but now we can say you’ve had an equal opportunity to the Agrarians who I taught this to! Though I hope you learned more than them.”
“I’m not sure about that,” Said AJ, and scratched his head.
“Even with you AJ, we can always hope,” Said Prometh, “But that’s it for today. If any of you want to know more, feel free to stay after.”
As the rest of the lass departed, Airomem waited behind. And she listened to Prometh for several hours, absorbing all she could, whether or not it made sense. For Necti had once understood it, and if she ever wanted to live up to her favorite story character, she would need to too.