The Rumble

Author: Emma Edling Müller

We are a few lightyears beyond Mars when I first hear the rumble.
It’s a subtle thing, the faintest of thunders, more an absence of silence than any particular sound. The kind of noise that’s hardly there, but once you notice it, it’s all you can hear. The control room is otherwise deathly quiet, everyone staring at their screens. I clear my throat.
”Does anybody else hear that?”
Susan looks up at me, frowning.
”Hear what?”
I am about to describe the sound to her, suggest a hiccup in the sound system or maybe a failure in one of the fans, when the captain grabs my gaze and holds it tightly, a warning in her eyes. Don’t.
I stare at her. Her eyes remain unyielding. The rumble continues in the background, humming the same out-of-tune note. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before.
I shrug in response to Susan, who wastes no more time looking at me. The captain cocks her head once, firmly, towards the door, and begins walking.

”Are we in trouble?” I ask, struggling to keep my tone light. She does not do me the courtesy of smiling.
”One could say that”, she says without blinking. ”The engine is malfunctioning.”
”Oh. What’s Susan’s take on -”
”Susan doesn’t know yet”, the captain says. ”No one does, as far as I’m aware. I can’t believe none of you heard it until now. It’s been making that noise for weeks.”
”Well, what’s the course of action -”
”Listen to me very carefully.” She leans in close, her features steel in the sterile lighting. ”There is no course of action. There is nothing to be done.”
I laugh.
”You don’t mean that we’re going to – ?”
”Surely there is some -”
”No. I’ve checked every code. I’ve spoken with Headquarters. This happens, sometimes, with this model. A never-ending rumble just growing louder. I’ve heard of other ships. Sometimes they make it till their next stop, if they’re very close. Sometimes contact is simply lost in the night.”
”Are we just to wait, then?”
”Wait for it or rage against it, it won’t make a difference.” She sounds tired.
”Maybe we’ll make it. We’re not that far away.”
”Maybe.” She’s never been a good liar.
”And none of the others … ?”
”They will know soon enough. It will only grow louder.”
”Aren’t they entitled to being informed?”
”Aren’t you glad, now, for the weeks of not knowing?” There’s a glint of madness in her eyes. I don’t blame her. ”Don’t you wish you were still in the dark?”

Susan looks up when I walk back in.
”She give you a hard time?”
”Not worse than usual, no.” I sit back down, my trembling legs grateful to be off duty.
”You know, about earlier … I do actually think I hear something.” I feel her eyes on the back of my head.
”Don’t worry”, I say, turning on my screen. ”I’m sure it’s nothing.”

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