Footsteps, muffled like they were underwater even though my arms and legs moved freely. Breathing, steady and loud in my ears, as spots of fog showed up on my visor. Lights, harsh and garish in the cold, frozen dark, casting long shadows and turning the wide hallway into a labyrinth.
I didn't gasp when I saw the first body. Aria had outlined it for me already, a human-shaped object of interest laying on the floor just around the bend. One of Aria's floating "whiskers" -- tiny, crystalline robots shaped like tennis balls -- shone a floodlamp on the corpse, and I shooed the whisker away as I rounded the corner and looked down at it.
He was perfectly preserved. One hand was clutching at his throat, while the other had apparently been reaching out towards the ceiling before slumping across his chest. It'd happened before he had frozen solid, in the vacuum.
I'd been expecting something like this. The Mugunghwa had gone way off course. It'd been supposed to arrive centuries ago. Even a generation starship couldn't just last forever, and this one was ancient.
What I hadn't been expecting were the man's clothes. He didn't look like an astronaut, or even a 24th-century civilian. More like a 14th-century peasant, in dirty brown sackcloth or something like it. Several of his teeth were even missing, and I didn't think it was because of the air giving out.
I crouched next to him, and overturned the frozen stiff cloth sack he wore at his waist. Plastic coins silently tumbled out, crudely stamped with Chinese characters. The Mugunghwa was a Korean ship.
"Aria, note: What the hell?" A tiny confirmation message floated in the air just in front of me, a "note" tag on my HUD's recording timeline, as I stood up and looked around again. Aria's whiskers obligingly turned their floodlamps outward, and floated out of my way.
Aria wasn't an AI. She was an augmented reality system, which was synced to my spacesuit. She had no personality, no consciousness, and no avatar, which was just the way I liked it. Not only did I prefer working (and living) alone, but AIs scared me. They could think thousands of times faster, change their appearance on a whim, and figure things out about you that you never told them. Besides that, the older ones could get cranky and mean. The ones back home were resisting political change which would make life easier for certain minorities ... which was part of the reason I was out here, instead.
I know it's terrible of me to be prejudiced against AIs. I know I might become one, eventually. And I know some of the people I've met in person were actually AIs in hardshells. I'm just scared of people I know are AIs, especially the ones that don't bother to use a hardshell or even an avatar. It's hard for me to think fast enough to reply to a human, let alone a transhuman. At least over email, it's harder for someone to tell that you're nervous and taking your time.
Aria's resonance scan showed an enormous room just a couple of junctions down. The wall signage said "Plaza," in Chinese characters; an English translation floated beneath it, visible only through my suit's visor. Which was good, since my kanji was rusty.
From a distance, all I could see was a void that swallowed up the floodlights, and grew as I walked towards it. Then I got to the entrance, and this time I did gasp.
Imagine a domed stadium, made from glass and steel like the first early spacecraft, its transparent roof letting in light from a million stars. Now imagine someone built a medieval Korean style village market inside, out of textured plastic and actual hardwood, with brightly coloured banners and shop stalls and displays of fruit and flowers. Signboards written in Chinese characters announced each shop's wares, and whole enclosed buildings stood apart from the interior walls.
It was beautiful, so long as you looked up ... at the buildings, the stars, and the softly-glowing lights of the starship itself.
If you looked down instead, you saw all the bodies.
There were hundreds of them, of all ages -- but not all genders, I realized. A pile of bodies was clustered near what I thought looked like an air vent, and almost all of them were men. One was slumped between the handholds for a passenger cart it looked like he'd been pulling. In the back, past a curtain, another man in ornate robes was leaning against the wall peacefully, as though he had died in his sleep.
I didn't normally think about people, whether they were living or dead. But the sight made me shiver involuntarily, as I realized just what had happened. This ship hadn't taken long years to die, to run out of supplies and lose power. These people had all been murdered.
As for what the hell had done this to them -- or what had happened that they'd apparently decided to recreate pre-spaceflight Korean society -- I hadn't a single clue.
This investigation had just gotten interesting.