Threedak was trudging through the desert when the angel fell from the night sky. She raised her upper torso from the fine grey sand, resting her weight on her four bulkier walking legs. She wrung her grasping legs together as she watched the streak of light falling from between the moons.
It was a portent. Of what Threedak couldn’t tell, but the stars swirled and moved about the spot from which the angel had fallen. Maybe the heavens themselves were angry that an angel dared to flee their lonesome depths. Maybe the other stars grew jealous of the angel’s beauty and pushed it from their twinkling embrace.
Regardless of cause, the Angel traced a slow and purposeful arc of white light through the night sky as it fell from the heavens. Even if she couldn’t understand the purpose or design behind the celestial entity falling to earth, it seemed appropriate to Threedak that she appreciate and mourn its passing.
She let out a low, keening croak, her neck pouches expanding as she forced air through them. The angel grew brighter in the night sky as its descent brought it closer to her. Threedak croaked again, pouring her emotion into the deep thrumming note as she swished her thick scaled tail back and forth.
The tribe had priests that could make better sense of the heavens falling. Their genetic memories were purer, closer to the true source of the Dhajtel people. Threedak was simply a gatherer and a scavenger, providing what she could to the tribe. She would learn what she could of the angel’s passing and then report back to the more learned minds.
Hopefully they wouldn’t need to consume her for her memories. Although passing your memories to a descendant provided an immortality of sorts, Threedak couldn’t help but selfishly wish that her day of consumption was far in the distant future. Even now she could remember the consumption of each of her ancestors, stalwart Dhajtel that through injury, illness, or times of famine submitted themselves to the tribe. It was a strange thing, remembering both being eaten as well as consuming a still living being. To know both the pain of another’s jaws closing around your leg while simultaneously tasting the warmth of their flesh. Every ancestor was an unbroken link stretching back hundreds of cycles, the echoes of their thoughts, images and memories passing from descendant to descendant.
When her time came, Threedak would submit herself to the tribe as well. Her memories and skills would become part of the tribe. Most likely the other scavengers would consume her rather than the tribe as a whole so that she could pass onto them her specific skills. She wasn’t the most important Dhajtel, but there was much her tribeswomen could learn from her about hiding and tracking the meager game across the shifting sand of the great desert.
Unlike many, the concept of being eaten didn’t excite Threedak. She wasn’t opposed to it when the time came, but she would happily leave that honor to her fellow huntswomen if at all possible. Many wanted to be consumed as soon as possible to ensure the smooth transition of their memories into the gestalt of the tribe, but Threedak was willing to take risks. True, she might die away from the tribe, her and her ancestors’ memories lost for eternity. Still, she wanted to live her life for a purpose rather than simply waiting for an honorable death and consumption.
The angel fell closer, the night air itself bellowing in approval as its light began to illuminate the desert like a second sun. Threedak stood up to her full nine measures of height, supported awkwardly by only her hind legs and tail. She bellowed in reply, celebrating the angel’s mournful descent.
Then, the angel slammed into the desert, its white light flashing in a strobe through the empty night. A second later, an explosion of sound, like a million thunderbolts striking at the same time washed over her. Threedak’s neck pouches vibrated as her entire body shook from the rumble of the angel.
She quivered in fear and prostrated herself. Clearly she had offended the angel by only standing on her hindmost limbs. Threedak croaked a prayer, begging for the light’s forgiveness and confessing her transgressions. A wall of sand rushed toward her as she closed the membranes covering her eyes and accelerated her request for clemency.
The wall of sand picked Threedak up and threw her.. She didn’t know how far she traveled through the night, but the sand surrounded her, biting into her skin and sneaking beneath her scales. She slammed into a dune of grey sand, the air leaving her lungs in a sudden rush. All around her the rumble continued as the angel expressed its displeasure with her arrogance, the very dunes beneath her feet shaking with its rage.
Like a sandsquall, the cloud of dust and angelic anger passed just as fast as it arrived. Threedak rolled her body to the side, struggling against the sand to work her way to her feet. She crouched beneath the dune on all six of her legs, using both her graspers and walkers to scurry away from her landing spot lest a predator arrive.
After ten minutes passed without the trumpet of a starvok or the beating wings of a kithsan, Threedak let herself relax. The angel must have forgiven her impropriety. She lifted her torso from the gritty sand, and wrung her graspers together as she looked in the direction where the angel had fallen.
Curiosity bubbled up inside of her. One of her ancestors encountered a fallen angel, a dead thing of rock laying in a sea of black glass, hissing and cracking as it cooled in the light of the twin moons. Her tribe took the glass as a gift from the celestial beings and used it to tip their javelins and spears for a generation.
Excitedly, Threedak dropped her torso to the sand and began hurrying towards where the angel fell as fast as her six legs could carry her. The dunes flew by in the chill night air as she periodically flicked out her tongue to taste the wind. No predators surrounded her, the angel’s anger having driven them away. Threedak increased her speed, excited at the possibility of being the first to witness the angel’s terrible fallen grace.
Then she was upon it. A twisted tube of gleaming metal with the wings and tail of a kithsan glowing faintly with heat. Even from five hundred feet away, she could feel the warmth of the dead angel on her face, the taste of charred meat on her tongue. Hesitantly, she approached and circled around the fallen being.
The angel had a hole in its neck, dim celestial light spilling from its interior. Almost as an afterthought, Threedak looked down and saw the corpse of a being, a trail of disturbed sand leading from the angel’s injury to its collapsed form. She scuttled forward and flicked her tongue, tasting the air around the body. It smelled edible even if its strange body, pink and scale-less with only two walking legs looked strange beyond belief. At least it only had a single pair of graspers, stunted and covered in five digits rather than the traditional four.
She pushed the body with her muzzle and received no response. Convinced that the being was dead, and recently so, Threedak opened her fanged maw to devour it. Despite her own mixed feelings on being consumed for the good of the tribe, the thought of dying alone and unable to pass on her memories did scare her. The least she could do for this poor creature was give it the honor of subsisting for eternity in her and her descendants' memory.
The crunchy flesh parted under her razor teeth. Whatever it was, this strange being wouldn’t have survived more than a single night in the desert. Its sweet flesh flowed down her throat like honey as she consumed it .
Its memories flowed into her, vague at first but with increasing clarity. She remembered sitting at a table, grasping a piece of metal. A cup. Yes, a cup in her graspers. Hands, that was the word. Using her hands to move the cup to her flat pink face and drinking a harsh burning liquid from it. Around her, other unscaled beings colored pink and brown laughed and joked in fast high pitched tones.
Threedak blinked. She was in a new spot, pilot school. She rolled the words around on her tongue. She walked into a grey pod, one of many in a row. Other pink and brown beings took their own pods in turn. Inside she sat down in a strange shallow chair and reached out to grab two sticks covered in buttons and knobs with the being’s hands.
In front of her, the heavens appeared. Instinctively, she jerked the sticks to the side causing the points of light to move. A green box appeared in the sky in front of her, tiny numbers and letters gave her information for which she had no context. She possessed three hundred fifty millimeter shells, six rockets, and 2000 liters of reaction mass. The memories told Threedak that the shells weren’t of the sort worn by the mountain fraak, but instead some sort of weapon. By the same note, she knew that a liter was a measurement of liquid.
An angel appeared in front of her in the night sky and she knew it to be an enemy, a harsh pyramid of silver, a tail of flame trailed after it as it flew past. The pyramid spit balls of metal at her that the computer highlighted in red. Computer? She thought in confusion, her brain unable to find any context for the concept as her hands moved on their own, rotating the night sky in a way that prevented the balls of red from striking her. A force pressed against her chest.
Then the pod shook around her. She was pushing one of the buttons on the stick and the green numbers began to tick down. Three hundred shells became two hundred and seventy five and then the pyramid exploded.
The images came faster, whirling around her as Threedak kept chewing on the body. Gradually the images gained solidity and the words gained context. The being she was eating was named Ashley Koenig. A prideful and talented pilot, she had defended her tribe to the last, but her time had come at the hands of an implacable foe that her race simply knew as ‘the invaders.’
Tears sparkled unshed in Threedak’s eyes as she saw the splendor of Ashley’s race, humanity, in all of their glory. Two dozen worlds covered in glittering metal and farms. A people that did not succumb to disease or hunger but instead pursued art and exploration, littering the night sky with stations and habitats.
Long before Ashley was born, humanity discovered the wormholes as well as the technology to stabilize them. They spread from one world to another in a golden age, their numbers multiplying without upper limit until they met the invaders.
The invaders never even spoke their name as they began eliminating human outposts one by one. They didn’t even attack for the purpose of securing territory or food. The outposts they seized lay empty, the corpses of the defenders uneaten and wasted in the streets. A grand fleet was sent to fight them, but it was defeated in a glorious battle. That defeat destroyed almost as many of the invader’s ships as it did human vessels, and slowed the invaders’ advance for a time.
Then more came. Humanity sent a second fleet. Older vessels, many hastily repaired and activated rushed to battle the invaders, crewed by officers fresh from school. This time the defeat was not glorious. The human forces were crushed and the invaders’ ships continued unabated. Humanity had nothing left to stop them.
In desperation, a pair of cruisers were sent from the final stronghold, a planet called Earth. They went through a barely modulated wormhole, allowing themselves to be cast through a storm of the universe’s primordial forces in an attempt to escape to a place where the invaders could not follow.
Only one human ship survived the transition. The Ark limped toward a world surrounded by two moons that Threedak recognized as her own. Then the invaders transitioned out from the maw of the wormhole, many of their ships mangled and leaking air or radiation from the storms of energy the wormhole flung them through. Not content with defeating humanity, the invaders had risked thousands of their own just to eliminate the race entirely.
The Captain of the ship dispatched Ashley, piloting a shuttle of humanity’s best and brightest to Threedak’s world. After all, that was the Ark’s true purpose. Not to fight the invaders, but to ensure that humanity survived, that their culture and technology lived on in some isolated corner of the galaxy. The invaders shot it down regardless. Ashley did her best to land the shuttle, and her efforts prevented the vessel from crashing into the world at speeds that would have likely ensured a winter that would last generations, but it was not enough to save her own life or the lives of the scientists in the shuttle’s hold.
Threedak stood on her hindmost legs, balancing precariously with the help of her tail and let out a low thrumming moan. Tears of precious liquid flowed down her scaly face as she sang a song of lament to the uncaring desert winds. The long moan disappeared into the emptiness of the night, unanswered. Ashley Koenig had been humanity’s last guardian, and the contents of the shuttle had been humanity’s last hope. Now, they were both gone forever at the hands of the invaders, and the galaxy was a poorer place for it.