A character’s perspective on sound in a Sci-Fi context
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Slow, steady, rhythmic. The Captain lay with eyes closed, listening to that determined-
Beep. Beep-beep. Beep.
It picked up the pace a bit as the Captain sat up, the tone jumping a bit, higher, then lower, losing its rhythm for a moment. A soft growl and the Captain pulled at one of the wires attached to her form.
Beep. Beep. Be-
The sound stopped as the Captain pulled away the heart rate monitor, and she breathed a soft sigh of relief. A low exhale of mechanically recycled, mechanically purified, organically recycled air. She could almost hear the low whoosh of the machinery converting the carbon dioxide her own lungs blew out back into breathable, lifegiving air.
In. Out. In. Out. In.
On the next inhale, the Captain braced herself and rose from the low infirmary cot, tugging away the rest of the wires and detaching from the IV. She remembered faint, murmured discussions above and around her. Mumbled words, too low for her to pick out, but there were no words now. And no beeping. Just the steady flow of air in through her nose, and out again the same way.
The sickbay. Yes. That’s where this was. But she felt fine, there was no need for her to be here. A walk would cure whatever malaise still clung, surely. With the first step, her foot fell with a low thud against the steel plate floor and a wave of dizziness swept through her, causing her to stumble.
Fever. Those mumbled words had said something about fever. Maybe they’d been right. But being cooped up here would do her no good, surely. A shake of the head, then another, and the dizziness faded.
See? Just fine.
A walk would be nice.
The Captain laid her hand against the panel that would open the door, and nearly recoiled at the metallic shriek that came from it. Surely it had never made that noise before. Hands clamped tightly over her ears, the Captain looked out into the hall. Darkened, except for the lights set low on the wall near the floor. It was a sleep cycle, and it didn’t seem like anyone had noticed the sound. Another deep breath, and she stepped out into the hall.
This time the sound almost took her to her knees, but she was braced for it, and was left trembling when the screech faded.
Must have one of those down in mechanics look at that.
She stood in the hallway in silence. No…not silence, not really.
She could a soft buzzing sound, coming from the floor lights, a sound that rose in a crescendo as she drew near each one, then softened when she’d passed, the sound following her in a wave, just as the lights did, brightening and dimming. One of the lights had a bad bulb, and she could hear the soft tink tink tink as it flickered and tried to stay lit as brightly as the rest.
Her feet brought her automatically towards the bridge, a familiar place. Just outside the door, she could hear the familiar sounds. The faint feedback from their radar, the steady pinging occasionally altered as something – bits of space debris or an asteroid perhaps – was picked up. The clatter of fingers over keys, and a low conversation. The Captain wondered who was on night duty. She reached to open the door, but the memory of what had happened upon leaving the sick bay was too fresh, and she drew her hand back.
She turned to continue down the hall, and another wave of dizziness overwhelmed her, and she leaned heavily into the wall for support.
Fever, and a bad one. Too much time down on the surface…Should have scanned more thoroughly…
Again, snatches of conversation half remembered through delirious dreams. This voice was accented differently, human words trying to be formed by a mouth that hadn’t evolved to speak a human language. The clack of scales, the flick of a tongue trying to get out of the way in time.
Gaining her balance back, the Captain continued down the hall, her footsteps much more muffled than she was used to. Made sense, she hadn’t quite thought far enough in advance to put her boots on…or find them. No matter. Just a quick walk.
Leaving the sounds of the bridge behind her, a new sound became apparent. New, yet old at the same time. A constant, deep hum, warm. The engines. Funny, the Captain could remember that sound keeping her awake her first few sleep cycles among the stars, but now she was so used to it that she had hardly noticed it was there.
When had that happened? When had she begun ignoring the very heart of her ship?
Mixed in with that reassuring hum, though, was something else. Not…not quite a sound, not one that she heard with her ears, but one that felt like a needle at the base of her skull. It brought her shoulders up in an almost defensive posture and sent a chill down her spine.
Her feet carried her without thinking, carrying her through halls and down stairwells. Instinct took her towards the lifts and transports spread throughout the ship, but a shrill chime came from each as it made its way along its paths and drove her back. As she went, the hum of the engine grew louder, warmer, even as that needle-like sound shifted from cold to icy.
Stop it. I must stop it.
Another door, one she had no choice but to open. This time the screech dropped her to her knees, and she blacked out for a moment, curled up with her forehead pressed to the metal of the floor. The hum had turned to a roar as the door opened, and the Captain could feel the floor vibrating along with it. A low groan – the human-like sound almost startling her, after being so in tune with the sounds of the ship around her – rose from her throat as she staggered back to her feet.
Through the door, quickly, before it could close behind her. Down the narrow hall, and now it wasn’t just the sound of the engines that was warm, but the air around her as well. She could feel sweat rising on her skin, could see it on the back of her hand as she typed in security codes to further doors, fingers moving purely on muscle memory.
The engines grew louder. The piercing sound grew colder.
She was nearly running now, towards the core of the ship, getting through doors before they could scream their fury at her, and ignoring how the air had gone from warm to hot to uncomfortable, ignoring the safety gear presented at each new room.
She had to make it stop. Make it stop. MAKE IT STOP.
Her vision swimming, head spinning, the Captain dropped to hands and knees. Panting for breath, sweat soaking through the loose clothes she’d been sleeping in, heat prickling at her skin. Looking up, she saw her goal. A lever, a simple enough device, right above her. Around the Captain, the engines thrummed and throbbed, the sound digging its way right into her very bones. That shrill sound-that-wasn’t-a-sound came right along with it, knifing through, bringing tears of pain to her eyes. With an animalistic cry, she surged to her feet, grabbed for the lever, and missed, fell to the ground with a deep metallic thud that echoed, twining with the pounding of the engine. She could hear her heartbeat matching that pounding, and with one more shout of effort, she pushed up.
Closed her fingers around that lever.
Part of her knew that there was a low whining whir as the engines powered down. Her feet – sore and singed – left the floor as the machines that created artificial gravity lost power. Part of her knew that there should be various alarms, both mechanical and organic, as life support for the ship was turned off. As everything was turned off.
She only heard blissful silence.
Something that she’d nearly heard while down on that cold, rocky planet towards the center of the galaxy. Something that she could hear now, even as her ship continued through space, doomed to drift in silence.
The song of the stars.