Leta threw Fiearius a dirty look. “Cy needs you below deck. He thinks there’s something wrong with the engine.”
“There’s always something wrong with the engine,” Fiearius said simply. “The engine is wrong. In general. So what else is new?”
Leta rolled her eyes better than anyone he knew. “He thinks something is really wrong.”
“Then tell him to fix it,” Fiearius grumbled impatiently. “Dunno what he expects me to do. I’m sure it’s nothing he can’t handle.”
Then, as if the ship herself wanted to mock him, a low groan rumbled from the engine beneath the floor, filling the cabin. The walls warbled in protest and then the groan weakened, like a pained, dying animal. And then there was silence in the ship. Tomb-like, horrible silence that meant one thing: the engine was shut off.
“See?” said Leta bossily. “Something’s not right. Obviously I wouldn’t come up here otherwise.”
Overheard, the lights abruptly switched off, replaced at once with the dim orange glow of the back-up lights. Okay, so something really was wrong …
Leta glared at him pointedly and swept out of sight. Trying to ignore the obnoxious warning flashes from the dashboard, Fiearius mumbled under his breath in mocking fashion, “Oh yes, ‘cause I’m the doctor and I’m so special, I run errands for Cyrus, la dee da, so special….”
He pushed himself to his feet, ready to go deal with, well, whatever this was. In the semi-darkness, Aiden was studying him curiously from his seat. Before Fiearius could ask, Aiden said, “You remember that Leta’s engaged, yes? Engaged to be married.”
Halfway toward the door, Fiearius looked down at him, perplexed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Aiden shrugged, a portrait of innocence. “Just reminding you.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The engine room — usually churning with mechanics and gears and noise — was eerily silent and still. The only sign of life was Cyrus dodging between the system monitors, his expression darkened in what looked like aggravation, determination and downright panic.
Fiearius paused in the doorway beside Leta, watching as Cyrus crouched beside the main core, using a flashlight to hastily investigate her inner-workings. Apparently unsatisfied, he made a face of worry, turned away and rushed towards the fuel conversion unit to do the same. That didn’t appear to go well, either.
Preparing for the worst, Fiearius prompted dully, “I assume you have an explanation for why my ship’s not working.”
“No,” Cyrus snapped. He didn’t tear his eyes away from a flashing monitor. “Actually, I don’t. Working on it.”
Raising his eyebrows, Fiearius exchanged a look of alarm with Leta. Then he slipped past her through the door, stepping into the room to lean his elbow on his little brother’s shoulder to watch the screen he was working on. Of course Fiearius had little idea what any of the scrolling diagnostics meant, but with one glance back at his silent engine and the distinct gut feeling that was growing within him, he was quickly becoming aware of the gravity of the situation.
“Talk to me, little brother,” he said simply, still distinctly calm. “Give me options.”
“I don’t have options.” Cyrus shrugged off his elbow, like he was brushing off an insect. “I don’t know what’s wrong. The engine just stopped working and I don’t know why. In data terms, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong. Everything is perfectly normal. But…” He hesitated and glanced back at the silent beast of an engine. “Clearly it’s not.”
“The back-up generator’s running fine,” he went on dutifully, skimming through his statistics on the screen. “We’ve got lights and life support and all secondary functionality, but…” His voice trailed off hopelessly and his shoulders sunk toward despair. “I just have to figure it out and fix it. That’s really all there is to do,” he said at last, looking up at Fiearius in earnest.
Fiearius watched the symbols on the screen distantly. “No other possibilities?” he asked after a moment. “Just sit here and wait ‘til you get it back up?”
Cyrus began to shake his head, but in the middle of it, had a realization. “Well, maybe we could … ” He turned back around to face the console and, typing in a string of characters, pulled up a new list to examine. “We could land on a planet within range while I work on her. The back-up can get us about 50 AUs if we sacrifice power to the lower decks.”
Leta stepped deeper into the room, her arms folded over chest. She, too, looked at the screen, and Fiearius thought he knew what she was thinking: they weren’t exactly in the middle of populated space. “Are there any planets in range?” she asked skeptically.
Wincing, Cyrus entered another few lines to pull up the navigation. This time, a single item blinked on the screen. “Just one. But it’s inhabited. It’ll work. It’s probably not a bad idea just in case whatever’s affecting the main systems spreads to the back-up.”
Relief almost reached Fiearius, but then he looked at the screen himself. Sharp dread punctured him.
“No, that’s a very bad idea,” he stated simply, which did not adequately express the sickened way his stomach clenched. “Look again, lil brother. Look familiar?”
Leta shifted closer curiously to look. Cyrus leaned in, closed his eyes and winced.
“I don’t know about you,” said Fiearius, “but I’m not particularly in any mood to go home right now.”
Both brothers stared at the screen, fixated on the glowing word ‘Satieri.’ There weren’t many fates Fiearius preferred to a slow, cold vacuum death. But if there was one, it was the bloodbath that what would await him the moment his ship touched down on that Society-controlled planet.
After a moment, Cyrus heaved a sigh and stepped away from the console. Brandishing his flashlight and ruffling his messy hair, he looked up at Fiearius sadly. “Like I said,” he began slowly. “I just have to fix it.” His eyes drifted towards the unmoving hunk of metal beside him and then back to his brother. “And until then? We’re stuck.”
Fiearius sighed bitterly. The crew was just going to love this.