Status displays zipped across my screens showing cold engines and a leaky hull. I wondered if the owner had even known it'd been spewing, had known that the slow shift off course had been caused by a near-invisible leak. Over months, maybe years, it'd built into that crazy flipping motion, especially after the rockets went silent. The radio equipment was looking bad too, but maybe it could still transmit.
I considered picking up my radio and scanning through the channels. Maybe the crew was still alive with last cigarettes lit in an apathetic sendoff, not giving a damn about scrubbers or oxygen fires. They'd be sitting there, staring at the swirling trails of ash floating outward toward the pull of their spin.
I wondered if, maybe, I could talk to one of them, and ask what death looked like. Was she cruel and cold? Welcoming and warm? Was she a better companion then what life had become?
Sitting up, it took a moment to pull away straps made heavy from the lethargy of fading motivations. Freed of the constraints, I hovered in the cockpit with a strange confusion. I felt a flicker of optimism. I glanced up toward the floundering ship.
Hours later, I had managed to find the radio manual. I skimmed it while skipping the technical garbage with hopes that it wasn't required to make the thing work. Another hour—needing to squint at some at the technical garbage—and my voice echoed over the airwaves. It felt a little weird, talking out loud. My throat felt dry. It seemed to rattle as much as my companionable vent.
No one was responding, but I found the right channel. My ship could detect the radio frequency, and our control channels synced.
Sitting in their tin can, floating in most peculiar ways, the passengers of that ship were listening to my voice across space. I wondered what they were thinking. Were they wondering, "Will this voice save me?"
Would I? It was an uncomfortable question.
Were they wondering, "How long until my oxygen runs out?" I could give them some. My containers, my train of supplies, could fuel a fleet.
Were they wondering, "Can we meet this other human? Have we really found someone else after so much time?" I could invite them aboard. There really wasn't space aboard my ship, but I wouldn't mind cramped quarters.
But speaking felt good, and so I kept talking. I began explaining about my matter processor. "It's a section of machinery that activates in some sort of automated programming. It trails on some high strength supports of buckyballs, some sort of microscopic building material as far as I know. When it goes boom, it acts as an engine and generator, running off of stardust and cosmic waves. Though. Honestly? I have no idea how it really works—or what fuels it. They gave me a brief overview, handed me some pamphlets." I trail off. Staring at the wall. There's nothing like other people to make you realize your failures. "Anyway. The pictures were better than the descriptions. Just got the barest idea. I'm no tech guy."
"The wizkids that built my rig were advanced enough to land a government grant or two, shipping their project off with robotic gusto. I was the only bit of humanity aboard, a glorified janitor to make sure it kept running. Some risk worksheet indicated that investors were happier, more confident, if my job existed." I chuckled into a silent communication mic. "And yet, I didn't know how to fix anything when things did go wrong. Everything happened. You know. And then the nav computer lost its way. Probably lost a few of its relays, I guess." The microphone stared at me with empty gaping spaces of molded plastic.
A sudden paranoia spiked through my brain. Who exactly was listening? Who knew if the spinning ship was friendly? Bandits had roamed the transport lanes before. In a fit of worry, I shut off the radio.
Sucking on tubes of nutrient paste, I stared at nothing. Boredom gradually crept back in while slurping the meager meal. For entertainment, I pulled out a couple of fire blankets and spun them in place. They did an odd ballet of static touch and slow rotation. A stress ball, slung from my fingertips, collided with a satisfying rippling rush. It made me think of diving into an ocean, slipping into a stream, splashing down from reentry. I repeated the experiment using different objects. Trying different angles.
YOU ARE READING
Space is vast, and the Hauler is alone. It is a kilometers-long train of supplies, but it has been off course for years. Its lone inhabitant used to get transmissions from Earth, but eventually, even those stopped. An occasional visitor might be nic...