Max Powerdown and Cornelius Copian were stuck in a small village, surrounded by trackless desert on all sides. They had no idea which direction to travel in, nor how wide the expanse of desert was. All they knew was that they needed to escape the village, which was slowly dying, and move to a better place.
Within the village were two stalls. One, a purveyor of food, the other selling second hand wares and handcrafted goods. Max and Cornelius each had one hundred dollars in their wallets to spend.
Cornelius examined the food stall, and then moved on the to second hand wares shop. He was inspired by what he saw there. An old boiler, some lengths of copper tubing, and a serviceable pram immediately caught his eye. He considered for some time, and then decided that the best course of action would be to spend his funds on these items and cobble up a steam powered perambulator to speed across the desert, though this would mean using up the best part of his monetary resources. Max on the other hand, had considered these things, and believed a different approach was in order, stocking up on food and water, and a slow march across the desert. The funds he would be left with would allow him to take advantage of any opportunities or cope with any problems that might arise during the journey.
Max and Cornelius discussed their respective plans, going over the merits and problems of each. Cornelius proposed that Max invest in his project, allowing them to purchase resources to build a steam-car twice the size to accommodate both of them. Max argued that this would require twice as much wood and water, and so get both of them only half as far. On the other hand, he indicated, if Cornelius were to purchase food, sacks and waterskins then they would be able to carry much more food and water, as well as having more monetary resources available during their journey.
"Who knows what we might need to purchase once we make it out of this infernal desert?", Max finished.
The two argued for some time, and eventually agreed to disagree. Cornelius spent ninety-five of his one hundred dollars on the items to build his steam-car and set to work. Max spent thirty dollars on three sturdy extra-large waterskins, a large hessian sack and enough food to last himself two weeks. Climbing to the top of one of the stunted trees that surrounded the oasis at the centre of the village he examined the desert around and picked a likely landmark to aim for, a rocky hill out at the edge of the horizon. After drinking deeply from the oasis and filling his waterskins, he slung them and his sack of food over his shoulder and set out.
Two days later Cornelius had completed his steam-car. He filled it up with water from the oasis, collected a load of twigs and branches and set a small fire under the boiler, stowing the rest on board. Climbing the tree as Max had done, he spied the same landmark and determined that it would be his destination. He purchased himself a sweetmeat for luck with his last five dollars and boarded his steam powered perambulator, setting out at a clipping pace across the sands.
By evening Cornelius reached the rocky hill, and found Max camped there. He was hungry and thirsty by this time, and asked Max whether he might impose upon his generosity and share his food and water. Max considered this for a time. Cornelius indicated that it would be to their mutual benefit, as once he was free of the desert he would send help back. Max thought this was reasonable enough, so shared food and water with Cornelius.
The next morning, the two scrutinised the horizon from the lofty vantage of the hill, and spied a thin streamer of smoke out at the horizon. They agreed to make it their mutual destination, though Cornelius would need to take a more circuitous route due to a wide expanse of rocky ground visible in the near distance. By their calculations Cornelius should reach the destination in about two days, whilst it would take Max six days, even by the more direct route.
So they parted, Cornelius speeding ahead in the steam-car, Max trudging along at a measured pace.
The source of the smoke turned out to be further away than they had estimated. On the second day of travel out from the hill, the steam-car was still a day away from what could now be seen to be another small village. At that point, the last of the wood burned away in a puff of smoke and the steam-car shuddered to a halt.
Cornelius did some quick calculations and judged that Max was still two days behind, but somewhere over to the west in amongst the rocky ground. He, on the other hand, was still two days walk from the village. A check on the boiler revealed he had enough for a day of travel at most, but nothing to carry it in.
Should he drink his fill and hope he could make it to the village? Should he push his steam-car to the village, even though it would require so much effort that it might take him three days to get there and that he may run out of water before he reached half way? Should he head west in the hope of catching Max? Cornelius was at a loss, and slumped down into the sand in a state of despondency.
Meanwhile, far behind, but still well provisioned, Max trudged along in stoic fashion, unaware that his fellow was caught in such a plight.
First coal-free day in Britain since 1880s
9 hours ago