Adrian Five watched the faint, winking star overhead grow dimmer and fade away. The last of the starships had left.
When the light had disappeared– or seemed to, beyond his angular resolution– he turned his head to look out over his empty home, now officially a derelict of the Republic mining program.
The asteroid upon which he stood had been used up, dug hollow of all valuable minerals. There might still be a hidden pocket of frozen oil somewhere deep below his feet, but it wasn’t worth the trouble of finding. So decreed the mining commission.
Hundreds of thousands of matte black pipes pierced the asteroid’s surface, elevators waiting to ferry down passengers that would never come again. Huge, white pressurized bubbles– living quarters for the human workers– stood in clusters like pimples, still functioning perfectly for no-one at all. Their generators wouldn’t run down for decades. There had been no point in taking them. It was cheaper just to leave all the equipment behind.
The brown, squishy crust of the asteroid felt like a sponge beneath Adrian Five, giving under his weight as he sat down on the lip of a crevice. He dangled his long metal legs over the edge, and absently flicked a soft hand-sized piece of debris down into the pit. It made no noise in the vacuum.
Strictly speaking, he knew, the rock had not fallen into the hole; the hole had swallowed the rock. The asteroid was rotating slowly, which lent the planetoid a false gravity. Or so he’d been told.
He had never experienced gravity, nor been taught much of it. There was no need. His entire life had been spent on a floating island in space, where gravity held no rule. Why waste time learning about something irrelevant? That was wasteful, inefficient.
Instead, what he had been taught was almost wholly concerned with protocol and mining. Mining and protocol. Protocol and mining. Mining and protocol…
Adrian Five vented his internal air, throwing up brief swirls of dust around him. He’d been overheating.
He climbed to his feet and began the short walk back to the main living quarters. He couldn’t bear the loneliness of the open surface, below the stars and their gravity and their planets and their people…
He opened the bubble’s lock bay doors and cycled through. A wind rushed over him, cleaning his body of rock dust. A dozen years of this had left his metal frame scarred and scratched, a thousand tiny lines across his torso. He waited silently until the process was through, then headed towards the communications room. His metal feet clicked against the hard plastic floor and echoed weakly in the narrow hallways.
The communications room was an economically small chamber lined with rows of radio receivers and computers. The room was crowded and warm, but Adrian Five didn’t mind. He sat down on the floor in a posture of patience, drew a pair of headphones over to his ‘ear’, and turned off his visual receptors.
Maybe the Republic would change its mind. A little frozen oil was always valuable… Maybe they’ll come back.
He sat there, blind, and waited for the tell-tale beeping that would indicate their return.