Dwight exited the landing craft with caution. He waved to Delilah to stay back. “No signs of life,” he scanned the shoreline. “And under no circumstances lift your visor. The air…” he paused to check, “…is toxic.”
Delilah didn’t care to be left behind. She defied the orders of her commanding officer and stayed close behind him as Dwight picked his way across a grey and ashy beach.
“There’s no birds,” she whispered. “I can’t hear any birds.”
Something skittered in the undergrowth. Delilah yipped out a little scream. Dwight shook his head. “Keep your stun-stick primed,” he advised. “No one has heard a peep from them in years but you never know.”
The foliage was sparse, as if it couldn’t be bothered. Chunks of stone slabs showed greasy between the tufts of green and brown. The explorers followed the slabs, like stepping stones across a bog, towards the tumbled wrecks of broken buildings, slumped sullenly beneath a lowering grey sky.
“What happened here?” Delilah wondered out loud.
Dwight shook his head again. “Neglect,” it looks like. “Just left to rot.”
They ventured further; the broken slabs became the ghost of a path, a square, a highway.
“Do you think they were happy?” Delilah craned her neck to look at the upper storeys.
“Who?” frowned Dwight.
“The – people. Who lived here. So far out. All alone.”
Dwight shrugged and shouldered his stun-stick. “I don’t give a shit. Just keep your eyes open.”
“Um – might be a bit late for that, Dwight.”
He spun around to find Delilah with her arms raised. A ragtag creature with a sharp stick and a wild look in its eyes was holding her prisoner. Dwight tensed, his stun-stick at the ready.
“Fuggoff,” barked the creature. “Gerrout oveer. We doan wancha. Fuggoff.”
He was joined by others, similar in stature and ragged state. They were emaciated and filthy, their eyes dull and their expressions vacant.
“Fuggoff,” they repeated, building to a feeble crescendo. Delilah squeaked with fear and disgust.
“We’re going,” said Dwight. He reached for Delilah’s hand. The chanting mob fell silent. The first one grunted and shoved Delilah from him.
“Fuggoff,” he added. “Bladdy forrinners.”
“All right!” Delilah hooked her arm through Dwight’s. “Jesus.”
“I’ll just leave this here,” Dwight said calmly. He reached into his suit. The natives tensed. Dwight withdrew a golden envelope made of plasti-metal and placed it on the ground.
The natives sniffed and grunted suspiciously.
“Come on,” Dwight urged. He led Delilah back the way they had come, their pace increasing as they drew near to the craft. Delilah looked over her shoulder while Dwight summoned the boarding ladder.
“Do you think they’ll read it?” she chewed her lower lip. “Can they still read, do you think?”
“Who knows?” said Dwight, ushering her inside. “We’ve achieved our mission. It’s up to them now. They tried to go it alone, outside of the Federation but, well, just look at it. What a shit-hole.”
He pulled the door shut behind him and began the take-off procedure. Delilah, helmet off, shook out her long, pink hair. She put her arms around him and placed her chin on his shoulder.
“We’ve done our bit. We’ve invited them back. They can be prosperous again, if they want it. It’s their choice.”
“It was back then,” said Dwight with a sigh.
The craft barely hummed as it rose through the atmosphere, away from the derelict world, to reunite with the mother-ship.