Chief Winston came up from the mezzanine to the Bridge at the captain’s request. Maxby queried, “Charles, what can we do to get the engines up and running in half the time?”
“Æther Fleet has never grappled with the problem to my knowledge. I was going to try to pepper the Dilythium coal with thermite and magnesium to try to speed up the initial reaction. I estimate it will buy us maybe five minutes. It will be too little too late. Even if I could somehow shunt heat from our soon-to-be-melting hull to the Core, we’d only get to temperature a second or two before we are all ash. I’m sorry, Commodore, but I can’t change the laws of physics.”
Maxby paused in a fit of disgust. “Winston, you’re fired.”
The Commodore lifted the protective cover to the controls for abandoning ship when Farrell jumped up from the tactical station and blurted, “We can restart the engines with a Blaisine torpedo!”
The entire bridge crew glared at him skeptically. Maxby was the only one either crazy or desperate enough to ask, “How?”
Farrell rattled off almost incomprehensively, “Blaisine converts matter to heat instantaneously. A phlogisten torpedo warhead can be emptied and replaced with blaisine from the armory. We could fit the drain plug of the torpedo to the injector assembly of the core. Once we filled the Furnace full of dilythium coal, we could flush the torpedo using its own concussive detonator which would purge the blaisine into the furnace converting most of the dylithium to heat that would be sufficient to bring the core to temperature.”
Farrell was staring at Maxby with a look of crazed brilliance. Maxby turned to the Chief and asked, “Will it work?”
Winston grimaced at both Maxby and Farrell and responded testily, “In theory, it might have a chance. In practice, it will blow Engineering to tiny bits just prior to the ship burning to a crisp in the atmosphere.”
“Sounds like an acceptable plan given the circumstances,” said Maxby.
“You do know that this plan is like trying to start a steamboat with a stick of dynamite.”
“Chief, make it so,” Maxby ordered.
“I’ll get on it right away, sir,” Chief Winston conceded with a tried tone. “Care to accompany me to the suicide, Mr. Farrell?”
There were ten minutes left on the clock. The hull was starting to show visible signs of heating. It was too late to initiate any sort of evacuation or escape. Anyone bailing out of the hull would be instantly roasted alive. The canister of blaisine and the torpedo had been delivered to Engineering. The Gunnery crew returned to their duty stations to pray. The torpedo had been attached to an Ætherine injector, and the concussive charge on the nose of the torpedo had been armed.
Winston asked Farrell how he was going to detonate the charge. Farrell knitted his brow and said, “Someone will have to strike the detonator with a big hammer or something.”
With a look of sheer lunacy, the Chief started to laugh hysterically and only stopped to say, “Will you be calling for volunteers then?”
Corporal Macgregor was standing nearby looking like and engineering officer as his bright red uniform was coated in black coal dust and ætherine sludge dripped from his dirty whiskers. He boisterously shouted in typical marine pitch, “Sir, I volunteer tæ to fire th’ round.”
Winston was silenced by his own amazement. After staring at MacGregor, the Chief pulled a hip flash from his boot and offered the marine a shot. The corporal replied, “Thank ye. Save it fer after.”
Winston offered it to Farrell who looked at it and handed it back to the engineer. Farrell tried to argue, “It was my idea. I think I should be the…”
The Chief placed an eight pound hammer in the corporal’s hand and sat to empty the hip flask. “It doesn’t matter where you sit or stand at this point, have at it!” Farrell accompanied MacGregor to the warhead. MacGregor dictated silently, “Everything tha’ I have tæ me girl and me kid, an’ Lord I am sorry I got mad t’day. Sir, tis been good servin’ wit’ ye.”
Farrell just looked on and yearned with every fiber in his body that his insane plan might somehow work.
On the bridge, Maxby just finished sending off his final orders and commendations. The bridge crew watched the Visograph persistently as the planet inched closer. Wælrave had the happenings in the engine room on audio and whispered, “Good luck, everyone.”
“Godspeed,” Ayers called out just before Maxby ordered, “Fire!”
The face of the hammer struck the nose of the warhead squarely. The sound heard next could only be described as the flushing of a giant energy loo. What followed was a roar that nearly shook the ship apart. Outside gouts of flame leaped from the stacks of the Dauntless. As the tremor died down, all the lights brightened, and the engine room regained its noisy and lively appearance.
MacGregor looked around. After a period of disbelief, he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Score!”
Chief Winston recognized the recovery for only a moment before he fainted dead away. Firemen and stokers scambled to their duty posts. Farrell was in a state of astonishment at the fact that his plan actually worked. Back on the bridge, the helmsman lost no time in pulling the nose of the ship ætherward, and the Dauntless darted skyward. Maxby got on the speaking tube and said, “Tell Chief Winston he can have his old job back.”
Blackpool added, “Nice shot, Corporal.”
MacGregor still encased in a layer of black engine room soot replied, “Permission tæ wash oop, sir.”
“Make it so, corporal,” Maxby replied.
Things eventually got back to normal. The survey party rendezvoused with the ship at the scheduled time. The ship made ready for ætheric speed. All the while the bridge officers returned to the initial discussion. Ayers commented, “I doubt what they did was an accident or unintended, but it is subtle, I’ll say that. We will need to work on a countermeasure.”
Maxby ended the discussion with an adumbration. “We learn from the Tholions at every meeting, and that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”