The Shakes

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The hull shuddered and hummed with the vibrations from an explosion that I could neither see nor hear. Above me, one of the air cycling vents rattled, just like it always did. I had a running bet with myself on how long it would stay put. On how long it'd be until everything shook apart.

So, I watched, floating lazily in a jury-rigged sleeping area, strapped comfortably, securely, just in case. I'd figured, years before, that any room was a bedroom in zero-g. However, air currents meant I couldn't expect to float worry-free. I'd woken up with my head in an empty cabinet before. Another time, my legs had gotten tangled in the observation unit's wiring. That'd been troublesome.

As always, I let myself drift in and out of sleep with thoughts wandering. My mind's eye went on past the hull, pictured the arcing trail of supply-trailers drifting behind the tug. The source of the vent's rattle was at the very end of that vanishing-point procession. A powerplant. Processing cosmic dust. Explosions roared soundless against empty vacuum in a process of nearly-endless energy. It was chaotic madness summoned and then harnessed by the hand of fallen human genius. There was something nuclear about the process, or antimatter, and it was fed by a kilometers-wide net of shimmering lace.

I had thought about walking out there before. It'd be easy. I could don my spacesuit just long enough to waltz into infinity by way of obliteration. Supposedly, the closer you'd get, the more of you it would burn away. Supposedly, even just outside the hauler section, you'd die from radiation. From my training, they said the netting would pull anything nearby into the processor. Some kind of reaction with anything unattached.

Though, every time I thought about it, I reasoned that it'd turn off before I even got close. I didn't want the slow pain of radiation death. Sure, I could go early, wait, breathing shallow, right at the engine's outlet. But then? I'd probably just run out of air anyway. I didn't want to suffocate; it wouldn't be a pretty way to enter unto eternity. The processor was beyond my control. It had no schedule. No pattern.

Of course, lingering Christianity and a hint of cowardice might've had something to do with my continued life. Then again, perhaps it was hope. It was one of my optimistic days, so I chose to blame hope. I lapsed back into a doze.

When I woke up, eyes unfocused, the vibrations were clattering to an end. In a heartbeat, I was immersed into cold silence. If I listened, there were gentle hums that reminded me of my mother's voice as she pruned her plants. They were just like her constant, unplanned tune, just loud enough to be heard, nearly imagined. I held to the memory with a self-destructive eagerness. Then, a motor whined, and the window shielding drew back in an aged stutter of movement.

Morning stars,

Morning space,

What a heavenly body,

What a lovely face.

Always new, never changed,

Close enough to touch,

Too far away.

Hair of stardust,

Smile of stars,

Constellation's companion...

Never could remember the last line of that poem, but it always cantered through my head after the matter converter's reaction had come and gone. Radiation and light too intense for me, the fragile human, would pour forth as my "little" generator did its thing. I never knew how long it'd last, and to see the stars again was a welcome thing. They were the only friends I had left.

Something pinged, picked up on the scanners, spindly antennae slipping back out to span the inky blackness from their hidden berths. The computer didn't even have to magnify the image. The ship was close enough to see with the naked eye. It was in a death spiral, careening toward some distant gravity well be it planet, quasar, or sun.

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