Tom breath caught as the words died in the subtle shuffles and winds of the ship, the now derelict ship.
"So… what do we do?"
The captain answered, "You all fix it or we die. It's as simple as that."
Drew addressed all of us, "About twenty, twenty-five minutes ago, the reactor just stopped. Sonya called me and tried the base restart procedure, and it wouldn't start. We don't know why, we don't know what's wrong. Then I called the captain I called all of you."
Scott asked, "Can we get any help? This doesn't sound good."
This time the captain spoke, "It'll take at least a week before any type of signal can reach Centauri station, and then they have to send out one of their emergency release vessels. The next closest dock is over a month away. We are on our own."
He turned to the head of engineering, "Drew, we're in your hands." And with that he left the reactor room and moved towards the bow of the ship.
Drew continued, "Margot, you're the one of us with the best knowledge of our comm array. Do you think we have any way of boosting the signal? Even if we can something one-way, that's better than nothing."
She frowned, "I mean, maybe. We're still in brane-space though, right?"
Drew nodded, "Yea, we were scheduled to glide for another couple days."
"Well, without the reactor, it'll be hard to boost the signal. I might be able to send a distress call in brane-space. I'll need to look at my options."
Scott replied, "What about using the shuttle batteries? Could that work?"
"I don't know. It might be possible."
Drew interjected. "Great, I want you two looking at ways to boost communication. If they can start sending help in the next day or so, we might be able to make it through this thing. Sonya, I want you to keep looking at the logs. Maybe there is something there that we can use. I'm going to run diagnostics on the control systems — maybe this isn't a reactor problem, but a computer glitch."
Tom smiled, "That would be nice," he thought, "a nice quick fix and then we all head on our way."
Drew finished, "Tom, I want you running reactor diagnostics. OK people, let's be safe and be thorough. We cannot let this problem get worse by guessing wrong and doing something dumb. If we do, then we're all dead. Everyone call in every two hours and give an update of what you've tried and what you're trying next. If you reach a dead end, then let me know; maybe someone else can be some help."
And with that they split, each to their own station.
Tom frowned. Reactor diagnostics was long and tedious. A complete part-by-part run-through could take a month, and that is when in dry-dock. Even then the repair and diagnostic crews normally removed it from its shell before trying to take the thing apart again. Ejecting the reactor here, though, in the middle of nowhere would guarantee that the ship would never be heard from again.
He tried the obvious first: there was plenty of fuel, the base reaction components (a later version of a pilate light) continued to run. Then he moved to the less obvious: he could confirm that the system could maintain a reaction, and that the monitoring sensors all behaved as expected. Hour after hour churned as he moved to less and less obvious. Other engineers made progress and regress, with no one coming to a conclusion.
He didn't know how long it had been, how many times he'd synced with the team or not, but eventually Tom got to the end. He had checked ever component of the reactor by hand. Each of the sub-systems seemed to be firing not only as expected, but at peak efficiency. But when he tried getting more than one or two components working together, they would choke and die. In his sweat, frustration, and exhaustion he signaled the engineering team. "Guys, I think I have a problem. Everything should be working just fine."
Soon after, they gathered in the reactor room, each a weary pauper returning from the diaspora to find their home destroyed. There was no joy in the room, only the resigned fear, the resignation of men walking to the gallows. None spoke for a time, each of the engineers turning the same fear over, examining it, contemplating the inevitability.
Tom spoke first, "So… nothing is wrong. It looks like nothing is wrong, but it isn't running. I can even show that all of the parts are running, I can even show that they can run together, even to the point where I can get 30% of the reactor running at a time. But it stops after getting any further than that."