The air hissed and spit and buzzed and hummed, a thousand little noises just loud enough to be audible, just loud enough to be distinct over the constant blanket of sound, and every single one of the was a needle through my skull.
“We shouldn’t be here,” I murmured. “This is a holy place. It reeks of menace and corruption.”
I turned from the bunker, looking back at the horizon. Quiet, for now - the afternoon sun stayed hidden behind the dark clouds overhead, but the very edges of the sky were clear and a sickly pale yellow. That boded well - the real storms were never more than a few hours off, but for now, the coast was clear. I squinted, trying to see through the dust that hung in great static sweeps around the grass mound and it’s strange little door. Today had been lucky - up until now, at least - and I desperately hoped we weren’t being followed. Few would risk their lives following two stragglers, especially in a place like this, but even this dying world still played home to many.
“All the better for us, then,” my companion spat. I looked back on him - tall, nervous and twitchy, always just one wrong answer away from mania. Currently, hunched over by the door, examining the locks and hinges. “Anything gods would wish to lock away is fit for our heathen eyes,” he whispered as he pulled out a set of tools and got to work. He reminded me of a hundred other self-styled academics and I disliked him immensely, but companions were always welcome, and beggars can’t be choosers. It was yet to be seen which of us was more dangerous.
I pulled my hood tighter, partly as nervous habit, partly in an attempt to keep the noise out of my eyes. It was futile in a place like this, even with the storms far off; the dust that wasn’t permanently suspended sputtered and flickered across the ground in a permanent spastic loop of locking and unlocking, carrying with it a more concrete dosage of the artificiality that hung over the entire hillside. I wanted nothing more than to turn and run back into the trees and fields behind us - I’d have even settled for making the three day trek back to where we started - but the academic wanted to see what was inside, and I wasn’t going to risk making him angry or me being alone again.
Not until it was necessary.
With a resounding click, a grunt of satisfaction, and a quiet creak, the door was open. He looked back at me, quietly - waiting for something? - until I gestured toward the entrance. “After you,” I said, suppressing a shudder at the thought of going inside. I don’t know how successful I was, because even through his mask, I was pretty sure I saw him smirk as he turned to walk inside.
The harshness of the space evaporated as soon as we were through the door, but the dread remained. A long, quiet, empty metal stairway was the only passageway, and I couldn’t shake a feeling as we snuck down it. I wasn’t sure whether this place, and others like them, were really holy or not - I had yet to meet a god, and my mother’s catechisms had never taken hold with me - but I knew I didn’t like them, all the same. I had yet to meet a god, and I didn’t plan on changing that any time in the near future. Even though a space like this was unlikely to house any divinity, whole or tattered, I still kept my guard up.
Soon, though - earlier than I had thought; this was no sprawling installation like back at Palemoa - we came to the bottom, and to a small, rectangular room full of tall metal boxes. Servers. Twenty, maybe thirty of them, in neat little rows, largely untouched, but quiet all the same. About an inch of water covered the floor down here, and it was hot and stuffy. No one had been down here for a long, long time.
Carefully, I let my guard up. The academic was even less guarded than I; as soon as we had hit the floor, he had been off, searching through the rows of servers for anything still functioning or worth salvaging. The place was utterly abandoned, and utterly empty - there was nothing there for me.