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“Damn,” Meredith’s disappointment felt unwarranted. She’d noticed the signs even before shuttling to the surface, but they’d made the descent anyway. This wasn’t the debris of a Solar swarm. Something other than those bastard Locusts had destroyed this world.
“Not what we were looking for?” Azi chimed, their tone knowing.
Meredith’s face hardened. Relying, as she did, on expensive whispers and rumors meant travel bred disappointment as often as delight. Distance bent not only time and space, but meaning as well. Age and language warped communication in a cosmic game of telephone, so ‘winged plague‘ may have begun as ‘death from the sky‘ or simply ‘bad air.’
“We will track down every last one of those beasts,” Meredith replied to her companion. “But in the meantime let’s see if anything left on this world has value.”
“There must be a story…”
Of course there’s a story, Meredith smiled. There’s always a story. Her red-haired hermaphrodite thrived on tales, fed on them even more than food, water, or starshine. Meredith wondered if the pleasure slave would’ve stayed with her, even if unbound, just for the sagas they could consume. After all, not every Nazaraik’s master traveled the galaxies searching for treasure. Or the bittersweet flavor of revenge.
“This looks like suicide.” Meredith observed. The skies loomed dark, smogged in with pinks and orange even at midday, the ruins standing, caked with grime, on the edge of a poisoned sea. “They ignored the signs,” she murmured. Just like I did. “Too hungry to see.”
Meredith chose this spot because the half-life of life still pulsed here – built structures, inorganics, and radiation – even if the tides had washed almost everything away.
She watched Azi move through the ruins in lithe, perfect bounds, to a short mesa in the waves. They stood, looking down for a moment, before waving her over. Meredith was fit and strong, more in her prime than ever, but her movements felt oafish and clumsy compared to her companion. The Nazaraik breeders had optimized for elegance and agility, weaving bones, tendons, and meat with spells of grace. Meredith’s strength came solely from generations of survival.
“There’s something here,” Azi said, not offering their hand as Meredith heaved herself up. The platform, a perfect circle, was hewn from something denser than the surrounding rock. At it’s center, a round metal plate was set several inches into the surface.
“Did you bring a can opener?” Meredith asked.
Azi raised an eyebrow. Meredith’s breath deepened; the Nazaraik’s face perpetually fostered an innuendo that fluttered Meredith’s pelvis, regardless of context.
She shook her head. “Let’s pop this thing.”
When they levered the lid, they found a small missile, with combustible propellant and a uranium heart.
“‘Winged plague.'” Meredith sighed.