Protein synthesizers: perhaps one of the most innocuous pieces of equipment that's taken along on intrastellar spaceflights. It's borderline useless. The lime-green piles of shit it vomits out could only taste worse if I knew where they came from.
But suffer a computer glitch resulting from some runaway burst of high-energy radiation - getting your automated navigation knocked off-target by just a few thousand kilometers - and sooner or later your rations are going to run out. And then, when your muscles are melting to mush, a pile of reeking shit-vomit tastes surprisingly like salvation.
I think it's been twenty-five standard weeks since departure, give or take. I never did have a very good sense of time, and I haven't been able to get myself together enough to keep track of any clocks. It's been something like fourteen weeks since I became the last living person on the ship.
I thought I was being smart, signing up to be a stewardess on an intrastellar passenger transport. The job, save the overwhelming list of safety precautions, is actually pretty easy. I work like a maid and I tell the passengers welcoming things when we depart and assuring things when we redock. I also pretend to be bored with the dazzling views of spaceflight just convincingly enough to act like a tour guide. I've been doing this for, what, sixteen standard years now? Hell, I was only seventeen when I started. Now my skin is just beginning to sag with the unconquerable weight of middle-age and my bones are probably brittle enough to break a medic's psyche after spending so much time in zero-gravity. And even after all these years, do you know what? Those dazzling views have never been boring.
But right now, the view - that void - is surely the most soul-crushing thing I have ever laid my eyes on. The near total silence inside this ship isn't helping to make it any more bearable. I never thought I could miss the noises of passengers so badly. I have to choose between being driven mad by the monotonous symphonies of my own bloodflow or by the ship's repeating collection of instrumental songs I've heard thousands of times already. And besides madness, all that stands resolute between me and an exquisitely painful death is a few flimsy centimeters of hull and about two more standard days' worth of protein-rich rations.
Okay, no. The most soul-crushing thing I ever saw must have been the massive pile of letters of rejection from after sending out applications for universities which was standing intimidatingly next to a pile of air where my acceptance letters might have been, if I'd received any. Fuck. I know the ramifications then weren't nearly so huge as they are now, but the dropping feeling in the deep of my gut, the realization that I would never amount to anything more than a serviceperson, was like nothing I've ever known. I'm guessing it's because I don't have a family to be disappointed in me anymore.
I did a bad thing very soon after I overheard some talk on the bridge about navigational errors and fuel deficits. I knew we had forgotten the protein synthesizer because I was the one who had forgotten to load it, and I was paranoid that the conversation meant trouble. So I stole as many of our protein-rich rations as I could carry (which despite the technical name are really little more than beans and nuts) and I hid them in my employee locker. Not only did everyone else die sooner because of me, but now I'm stuck breathing longer. You haven't died until you've vented the rigid corpses of your coworkers of more than a decade together with a hundred or so strangers out of an airlock.
I think, though, that my mom would be exceptionally proud of me if she ever knew how much of space I've seen. I'm not even in the same system anymore as where I grew up. The company I work for paid for my interstellar flight because of some quirk of logistics that meant I'd be of better use here, in the company of Cygni, rather than near Sol. Mom was almost certainly dead by the time I arrived here. My dad, on the other hand, only ever seemed to care about me insofar as I could support him with my own job through a cozy retirement. The bastard's almost certainly dead now, too. I say he got what he deserved: absolutely nothing.
It takes about ten years for a ray of light to reach Cygni from Sol, and roughly ten times as long for the average interstellar ship to cover the same distance. Very unlike Sol, Cygni is a binary system. It hosts three big gassy planets that are totally worthless to any human industry. Orbiting around those three gas giants, though, are a collection of significantly more valuable moons. A couple of them even have breathable atmospheres, if you would believe it.
I'm as far from being an expert on orbital mechanics as I am from standing on Sol, but my guess is that if I waited a few years this ship I'm in would circle around and hit a periapsis someplace where I could actually have my hopes smashed by not being rescued where my dismal odds would be at their highest. Alternatively, it might be uninterested in an orbit and travel perpetually forward and to some point where the suns can't power the ship anymore, or very interested in colliding with one of the gas giants or a moon. Regardless of the eventual destination, though, I'm not going to be alive to see myself get killed by it.
It's too bad. I thought that perhaps one day not too far from now I would settle down, maybe even begin a family. Or at the very least get caught up in a romance with one of my coworkers. I mean, I have gotten caught up in some romances. But I remember those passions with a flavor similar to lukewarm water. The hope was that I'd find one to last. But - if you think about it - nothing lasts, does it? Even Sol is going to die one day.
I don't want to die like they did. The passengers and my coworkers, I mean. They were so desperate. There was even talk of eating each other toward the end, as though living a few days longer could be worth the horrors of eating your fellow humans. Had they thought of it any sooner they might have tried it, too. A lack of protein does even more to encourage apathy than being the only one left alive on a marooned starship. I've been searching around the ship for sharp things to end this more quickly, if not a little less cleanly. I've been disappointed, though, because of the lengths gone to in ensuring that nothing on here could be used as a lethal weapon in case one passenger ever became particularly irritated at another.
I think I'll try going out the airlock.