Entering the entertainment hall, Jude found no one. There was no sound, though he thought there had been. It was easy to manufacture things on the ship; sounds of films, sounds of footsteps, movement, smells of foreign things. He had talked to Brad recently about the irony of travelling thirty million miles and seeing nothing unique or inspiring, while back home a walk several yards down any road invited new thoughts, feelings, experiences, interactions. Here was prison. The same sterile blackness of space forever. “It was a mote of dust but it was our mote of dust,” Brad had agreed quietly, smiling. They were always being interfered with, too, by some invisible force. Not stopped in their tracks, but playfully fucked with day-to-day. Constant maintenance was necessary. Every week new engineers were brought up from the sleep stations to join others on jobs no one could have anticipated, and it was costing. Madness was in the wings. Nobody liked the feeling of the ship at night, like now. People only waited for the lights to come on. Jude napped. Everyone napped, though it wasn’t allowed—six and a half hours was the minimum, but everyone was uneasy. Jude took a seat and gazed at the empty screen.
“Heck, where are you, buddy?” he asked, rolling his head around the room, as though he could be up there. The sudden thought seized him that Gram Heck had actually ejected himself somehow into space the way Jude had talked about from time to time, and from now until landing day he would be changing seized and (somehow) shattered manifolds, idlers, circuit boards and whatever else by himself, or with various other operators dragging their feet up from their dim little sleep stations, one after the other, who didn’t know him and his brand of humour, the movies he had seen and the things he aspired to do and be, and also wouldn’t care. Was that puerile? He felt cold and wished he had brought a jacket. There was a sense, familiar to him in the echo chamber of the floating, soulless ship, of being plunged into obscure and empty sadness. It happened when there were no demands on his intellect or intuition—when things were pretty much mapped out, as now. The thought that Heck wouldn’t show, and tomorrow would not be in the mess hall made the feeling profoundly amplified, and Jude had an almost erotic compulsion to jump out there too, if such a thing were made possible; some tweaking of the software. He would take a last leak, mention something to his favoured colleagues (not the nameless troglodyte engineers) about retrieving a forgotten tablet at a workstation, which was often a problem, and then jump (twirl? backwards dive? jackknife?) into blissful, sad, overwhelming inbetweeness, like sleep he thought, and say something like, “This was my destination all along.”