If you listened closely, you might have been able to hear the sing-song cadence of the Aurans conversation, or the clackety-clack of the Hyatas footsteps – but generally you wouldn’t notice much of anything beyond the cacophony of the space station as a whole. The sound of the station was like a roar made up of a thousand different murmurs. Whether it was the creaking of the walkways, the humming of the generators, or the haggling of the shuttle pilots – it never ceased.
There were ways to deal with the onslaught of noise, sure. There were the soundproof rooms you could rent by the hour, but that was a habit more expensive than most could manage. Some folks got implants with adjustable volume, but that was risky for the eardrums. Mostly you just learned to live with it.
Zola woke up to a peculiar feeling that she couldn’t quite place. Her eyes scanned the room while her hands searched her body for any sign that something was amiss. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and hesitantly brushed her toes across the cold floor, as if expecting it to disappear beneath her touch. One careful step at a time, Zola made her way to the mirror and sighed with relief upon meeting her own reflection; she had half-expected to come face to face with the image of a stranger. She shook the peculiar feeling off as nothing more than a strange dream.
On that particular day Zola was scheduled to work a double, and the eternal question of whether or not a person truly needed employment always seemed to pop in to her head in the moments leading up to eighteen-hours in the Foundry. While she certainly didn’t mind the overtime pay, it was getting harder not to cringe at the thought of enduring the screeching machines and the voices that tried to yell over them. The relative quiet of the cheap lower-deck cabins where she lived had become something of a sanctuary.
Zola tossed on a pair of worn-out coveralls and tucked her short hair behind her ears. With one more affirming glance in the mirror, she grabbed her Comm-Card and headed out of her quarters. One foot was already outside the door when she made a split-second decision to send a message. She tapped the Comm-Console and scrolled through her contacts until she found Lizzie.
“Hey,” Zola typed. “I feel like shit. Ditch work and meet in the Hub?”
The most common route from the lower-decks passed through a large market hall, otherwise known as the Hub. Currency exchange kiosks and convenience stalls lined the alleys, like veins guiding you to the heart of the station. Flashing lights baited passersby every which way, pulsing life into the plaza. Zola kept her hands tightly in her pockets as she zig-zagged through the crowd, trying her best not to bump into anyone or anything. A friendly cook from a familiar food stall beckoned to her, but she just smiled and gestured to the back of her neck with a shrug. This wasn’t an unusual interaction between them, but on that particular day Zola found it difficult to pass by. The exotic aromas were more enticing than ever. Has the food always smelled this good, she wondered.
Zola spotted a Comm-Console as she was exiting the Hub and eagerly tapped her access card, hoping to find a response from Lizzie.
“Z,” the message read, “do ya really wanna miss another shift? get yr ass in there. make it thru the day and we’ll go for supper on my dime. love you.”
A wave of disappointment washed over Zola, whisking away all hopes of using her girlfriend as an excuse to play hookey. More and more each day, Zola’s resentment for being stuck in the Foundry grew. She wished she were living on the surface, whether it were Europa or Terra, it really didn’t matter; she just wanted a break. She wondered if she would ever feel a breeze of air that didn’t come from a cooling vent, or if she would ever fall asleep to the sound of something other than the howling of a hundred-thousand machines.
Zola opted to take a detour through the Ecodome. Her grandmother had always reminded her that on this old station, a person needed to hold on to joy in any place they could find it, and being surrounded by the plants was something that kept her calm. Zola walked along a narrow path while running her hands through the damp beanstalks that grew tall on both sides, welcoming the water droplets to travel across her dry hands. The climate felt revitalizing as the cold mist soothed her hot skin. She tried to recall if the air had always felt so good. That strange feeling from the start of her day remained with her, prodding her to contemplate things she never before paid any mind to.
The Ecodome exited into a long corridor, with walls of continuous windows that arose from the floor and arched all the way into the ceiling, like a tunnel right through space itself. With a cursory glance down the corridor, she felt a longing for something that she couldn’t quite place. Zola had walked along those windows hundreds of times before, but in that moment the astonishing depth of space overwhelmed her.
The foundry was in a hot, windowless corner of the station with stuffy air that smelled of copper. As Zola drew near, it was evident that the foreman had already begun throwing his daily fit, this time directed at some unlucky labourer. She attempted to avoid eye contact in hopes she could slip to her post unnoticed, but the foreman almost immediately waved her over. She slumped her shoulders and reluctantly slid a hand across the back of her neck, bracing herself for the arrival of the foreman’s shrill voice. Much to her surprise, that voice never came. His face contorted into a variety of ugly expressions and spit flew from his mouth as he wailed, yet she couldn’t hear a thing. Just like she’d done a thousand times before, Zola once again slid a hand along the nape of her neck where the implant was installed. Deafening silence filled the air.
Zola had become accustomed to quiet, after all, she had her own personal volume set to zero most of the time when in public. But this was different – it felt somehow profound.
That feeling that had been following her like an unwelcome shadow began to take shape as the sensations of the day. She remembered the unusually sweet aromas of food, the delicate touch of the water droplets, the brightness of the stars. Zola watched as the foreman continued to flail his arms, smelled the sweat that dripped from his frantic body, and felt the vibrations as he stomped his feet. This day was like every other, only this time Zola remained in blissful silence. She had finally found some joy to hold on to.
Tessa Beebe is a Canadian artist living in Germany. She spends her free time building robots, playing with her cats, and writing speculative fiction. You can find her on Twitter for short stories and bad jokes: @BeebopTessa