The scrapping parties had come back inside the Dauntless and a debate was raging o n the Bridge. "These Spores, sir -- I think Lt. Wælrave is right. The crystals don't seem to have any hostile function. They seem by all intents and purposes to be dead." McGregor debated. Ferrel countered with "Historically, dropping biological waste or decaying corpses has was usually considered a rather war-like act." The argument terminates with a call from Chief Winston from main engineering. "We have detected a 7% loss in power in the past hour! I don't know what's causing it but I'm having to burn a lot of Dilythium coal to maintain operational levels."
Maxby's eyes shot to Blackpool "Where all the spores removed?" "Aye Sir. I personally walked all surfaces to verify results. Not one was left attached." "Did you check the stacks?" Blackpool answered carefully, "The outer stacks were cleared. The inner stacks can only be cleaned when the boiler is shut down due to the extreme heat." The words extreme heat hit McLeod's ears like a ton of bricks. "The environment of an active stack would be similar to the environment inside the Tholion ship." Maxby turned to the speaking tube to Sickbay, "Dr. Tandekar, have you tried using extreme heat on the spore specimens?" Tandekar replied, "There has been no response from temperatures as high as 1000 degrees Commodore." McLeods face went white. Maxby noticed and asked "What is it McLeod" McLeod approached the speaking tube and asked, "How are you disposing of the specimens Doctor?" The response "We incinerate them" left the bridge crew speechless. Tandekar continued "We haven't tried to get rid on any of our specimens yet, should we." McLeod shouted "Absolutely not!" as he ran for the pneumatic lift tube.
Corporal Macgregor was still outside breaking down the last of the scraping equipment and still cursing the Tholions. His Telethergraph came crackling to life. It was Commander Blackpool ordering him to check out the insides of the stacks. It was a long walk up to the stacks. While walking up the sides of the stacks MacGregor could feel the heat through his gravity boots. MacGregor peeked his head over the rim and saw a number of spores but they all seemed to be broken. Through the heat distortion he could make out that the spores looked as though they were broken open from the inside. MacGregor opened a channel on his telethergraph and reported. "I see bits an pieces o the damn spore's shells but na sign o beasties. It's probably damned wee Tholion babies cavortin' in th' pit fires o' hell."
"Winston here Capt'n. The power loss has increased. we are now down 17% of normal. We're stoking more fuel to the boiler but we're not getting the output we should. I am trying to compensate by shutting down nonessential systems." Maxby caught Chief Winston before he could continue, "Winston have you checked the boiler for spores?" Winston replied "Nothing can survive the heat of a phlogisten boiler" "Nothing should be able to live on Tholos but the Tholions do it! Check your boiler immediately!" Winston called back a minute later to report "I'm using the hypertherm scanner down here in engineering and the boiler looks like is crawling with bugs and barnacles. Somehow these things thrive in this ungodly heat. To make matters worse we are down to less than 50% output and it's falling rapidly. I'd estimate another 50 minutes before we loose power completely."
Maxby looked to the bridge crew, "Suggestions?" McLeod said "If they feed on heat there is no remedy except for shutting down the boilers and removing the infestation." Maxby asked the obvious question, "And what are we supposed to do to maintain orbit while mucking out the furnace? "I don't know Commodore but getting rid of them is the only way to restore power." Maxby paused just a moment before issuing orders. "Chief, cut off all fuel to the Furnace. If these things eat heat it should go cold real quick. Prepare for a complete furnace cleaning. Jettison all debris up the stacks.
Maxby turned off the speaking tube to main engineering as the emergency Veridigen lights came up. Liquid nitrogen flooded into the boilers and the roar of explosive depressurization was felt as the contents of the boilers was cast toward the Mercurial surface. "Navigator, how long until we start burning up in orbit?" "62 minutes sir" Ayers replied in his place. McLeod interjected, "Winston estimates the clean up will take 50 minutes or more with the amount of rubbish in the furnace." Maxby grumbled the fact that they all knew" It takes a full hour to get the Core up to temperature once we've cleared it out. Gentlemen that means we have to eliminate 42 minutes from restart or generate 42 minutes of orbit. Suggestions?" Ayers was the first "We could rig the solar sails to increase our speed on the rim-ward half of the orbit and take down the rigging on the core-ward half." "That might buy us some time if the rigging crew could manage it but remember the people who could make that happen will be busy cleaning the core." Maxby rejected. Blackpool interjected, "My Marines have been cross-training with the Engineers. Although we haven't learned anything about rigging for solar cruising we do know how to scrape a furnace." Maxby's face brightened, "That's it Blackpool get your men to engineering immediately."
Lt Wælrave chimed in, "what should I tell our people on the surface sir?" ". Update the Shuttle on our predicament. Inform the landing party to make to the Vulkan enclave if we do not make it. Alert the Vulkans to our situation and course of action." "Aye Sir."
Lt. Commander Ferrel was inordinately silent, sitting at his station desperately making calculations. Maxby considered his situation being the armory officer in a life and death situation where his overpowering weapons were of no use. The solar rigging was only buying about 90 seconds of additional time per orbit. Ayers had ordered the shuttles out to add their thrust to slow the decaying orbit but it was like trying to tow a barge with a dingy. The Marines completed the core cleaning in less than 40 minutes. That reduced the margin to about 25 minutes. But as MacGregor noted, "That's 25 minutes after we're all dead."