The air was stale, but the fact that there was air at all was something of a miracle. Demetri was the first person to walk the halls of Elatus in a thousand years.
He shut his visor. Breathable as the air might be, it was damp and there were thick carpets of mold overhead, as alive and patient as coral reef, and just as foreign. Better not to inhale its spores.
Elatus was built just before the Plunge, at the height of human achievement. It had been a steep climb back out of that pit with much backsliding, and that high-water mark was still out of reach. But in Demetri’s mind he could nearly imagine its splendor.
The hollowed out asteroid was full of wonders he didn’t understand. It was silent. There were no hums of fans or whines of pumps or hisses of ancient gaskets or trickles of water or coolant or fuel or hydraulic fluid, but somehow Elatus had kept itself regulated. It maintained itself, maintained its course, maintained power, and all without a central AI—normally a hallmark of that time period—as far as Demetri could find. But Elatus was labyrinthine, and he hadn’t found every corner yet.
The asteroid’s size, along with its human-built structures, suggested that there was room for a settlement of millions. He doubted that many people ever lived here though. From what he could find in the scant records, construction had only just finished before the Plunge, with just a handful of migration ships ever arriving to offload their cargo of passengers. A few thousand at most. Not even enough genetic diversity to maintain the smallest of generation ships. And Elatus had never been intended to be a closed system; merely an extremely efficient one.
Demetri clambered over silent, ancient machinery that may as well have been alien, looking for answers to questions he hadn’t yet formed, when he saw a dark shape ahead. His skin prickled and a vortex twisted in his gut.
He was not alone.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Larry Southberg, used with permission.