'Another world burns, and we only watch,' Ultima whispered. Below her, pulses of light strobed across the night time face of a turbid planet. Atomics, primitive, but powerful. Such weapons were no threat to either of them, neither the goddess nor the sentient ship.
'Such is the life of organics,' Ta'Xet responded. Her avatar meditated in the center of what had once been the bridge of the ship. 'They grow, they fight, and they become better at fighting, until they become so good at it they destroy themselves,' the ship said.
'You are being trite again,' Ultima said. 'We could stop this,' she gestured to the burning world. The atmosphere of the planet hazed over from the massive amounts of debris being lifted skyward by pillars of atomic fire.
'There is no stopping this,' Ta'Xet said. 'They have cast their dice, their fate is sealed. I am currently tracking 78 more warheads still en route to their targets. Total exchange for this world will be 472 warheads, only counting atomics above the one megaton mark. There are quite a few more smaller weapon systems being deployed.' The avatar of the ship, the warrior to the organic's mystic, never moved. 'There will be an atomic firestorm for three of their days. Atomic winter for 19 of their years. Within a century, this species will be extinct.'
'We could stop it,' Ultima insisted.
'Our abilities are impressive, but neither of us can reverse time or undetonate an atomic device. The damage threshold was surpassed over an hour ago. They have succeeded in killed themselves,' Ta'Xet said.
'I wish to know them, I want to remember them,' Ultima said.
'As you wish, my heart,' Ta'Xet said. 'I will ensure your safety, but do not become overburdened with grief.' The angel nodded. Ultima fanned out her wings and blinked down to the surface of the planet. There was a moment of buffering as she passed through radiation belts and pillars of heat and incandesant flame. She landed not far from the corpse of a great city. It was in flames, the air tasted of ash, and she could feel the radiation burning through the air. Tears streamed down her face, she could feel them, survivors, even after this holocaust. Wings spread she drifted a few feet above the ground. She was searching, looking for a lost soul that could be redeemed. She flitted to the ground near what was likely a place of worship. There were survivors inside. She drew in her wings and pulled the doors open.
They screamed, their throats raw with emotion, tinted with blood. The radiation was lethal, and their deity had afforded them less protection than the walls of their sanctuary. She scanned the survivors. Carbon based, demi-mammalian, trinary gender system, heightened metabolic activity, signs of extensive cellular and genetic damage, the radiation. One shouted something at her, raised a primitive weapon and discharged it at her. A simple metal slug, barely supersonic, and no threat to her. Still it struck her consort's defenses, the metal deforming against Ta'Xet's projected shields, before exploding away in a burst of burning metal. She was being over-protective again. The other began making peculiar noises and gestures, religious hymns or panic, possibly. She hadn't tried to learn their language, at least not yet.
She knelt in front of one of the younglings, her luminous body casting a blue glow across the youngling's upturned face. She touched the child's face, tears streaming down her own. She linked and felt the fear and panic, the gnawing pain eating through his young body. Their language unfolded for her, their faith as understood by a child. She wrapped her arms around the child and wept.
Far above, Ta'Xet watched through her sensors. She gestured and a beam of light lanced from her port side, intercepting and incinerating a large atomic that would have detonated within close enough proximity to her soul, Ultima, to have bothered her. It wouldn't have actually harmed her, but whatever she was doing, or was experiencing, would be destroyed. That had happened once before. 307 cycles before during a similar exchange on another suicidal world, she had been recording their apparently breath taking art when a pyroclastic device detonated and charred the museum she had been inspecting.
Ultima had been withdrawn for almost and entire cycle after that.
The cruiser adjusted her course and started her own scans. If the species was advanced enough for atomics, there was a chance they were advanced enough for electronic databases. Ta'Xet sniffed to find one still operational. The signal strength was deplorable, but that was the price of atomics. The neutron interference was annoying, but she did find what she was looking for. A relic city, very likely culturally important, but lacking military or strategic value. It had gone unbombarded, and still had generator power. On rare occasion it amused her to bring the bulk of her body down to the surface of a planet, striking fear into the cowering populace, as their primitive minds struggled to comprehend something as fantastic as a Galaxy Class cruiser. This usually devolved into carnage, which at times, she relished. This was not one of those times.
She teleported to the surface, just outside the gates of the museum. There were organics inside, but she didn't care. They were corpses that hadn't realized they were dead yet. She strode into the building purposely, flicking out her hand and extinguishing a number of natives that tried to stop her. They might have been trying to communicate, but that was something that UItima might have cared about. She stepped over several more freshly dispatched bodies to find the computer terminal she was looking for. She sighed at how primitive it was, but it would be worth the effort. She extended probes into the data port, flicked the encryption programs away and started downloading the contents of the archive.
Classic literature of the planet, multiple languages. She would enjoy that. What was considered fine art was also a quick download. The system itself staggered under her demands on it. She was aware of their approach, they might have been silent, but she could sense their body heat, the bioelectric signatures of their nervous systems. 'Tell me, primitives, what are the finest pieces of art on this planet?' she asked the closest one.She asked three others before remembering that she hadn't taken the time to download their language. It was rustic, earthy, a language peppered with violence, sexuality, and passion. Just from their alphabet she was not surprised that they had committed planetary suicide. The forth native she asked, in their own language, shuddered and fell. Organics, always so frail.
The wind had picked up, and the temperature was rising. She couldn't see the explosions, but she could feel them. Distant, and there were many of them. She closed her eyes and reached out with her heightened senses, felt the blast waves radiating out from the explosions. There was still fight left in these aliens, and their primitive war machines were still lobbing weapons at each other. Suicidal, over and over again. Each inhabited star was the same, hundreds of millions, even billions, dead. The stars were cemeteries of sentient races.
'Our creators discussed this,' Ultima whispered, 'Of the great paradox,'
'I am aware,' Ta'Xet said.
'Is this something programmed into their basic genetic code?' Ultima whispered. The little one in her arms had succumbed to radiation sickness, to the internal burns and bleeding. Ultima's own flesh registered the atomic heat of the air around her.
'It is not,' Ta'Xet said. Far above, her vast metallic body fired out more lances of light, vaporizing more intercontinental missiles. At this point the exchange was pointless, the automatic activation of redundant systems, missiles launching because the hands on their controls were dead.
'I can feel you shooting them down,' Ultima said. 'It doesn't matter now, this world is dead.'
'I know it is, my heart, I know. I am weary of the pulses of radiation,' Ta'Xet said. 'Do you wish me to let them fall?'
'It doesn't matter, my soul, it doesn't matter.' Ultima said.
'We can leave this place, I have recovered an archive of their art and music, for you to peruse at your liesure.'
'Thank you,' she said, 'it will be a while though. This one, this one has hurt me.'
'They all harm you, my heart,' Ta'Xet said. She put a reassuring hand on her companion's shoulder.
'Her face is familiar to me,' Ultima said. 'There was a girl, on the homeworld. She had this same face, the same eyes. I cared for her, she was someone to me, then. When I was still mortal, before I was this.'
'I see the resemblance, she looked like your organic daughter,' Ta'Xet said, cross-referencing the dead girl's face through her database. It was deep archive, files that hadn't been touched in over a thousand cycles.
'I didn't want to say it,' Ultima said.
'I said it for you,' Ta'Xet said.
'Do you miss the homeworld?' Ultima asked. She folded her feathery wings back down against her body, her emotion abating.
'You know I do. We are alone, both of us.'
The homeworld, it was a place that neither of them thought about often, there were too many sad memories. It was still there, sitting at the self important coordinates of 0.00 x 0.00 x 0.00, the very center of their astrogation system. Ta'Xet has been built there, a paragon of their massive and impressive technology, a cruiser capable of traversing a galaxy with ease. Her computer core had been grown, and her sentience had been an amalgamation of scientist, explorer, and protector. The homeworld had plans to lay down many more of her, to send their will and might out into the galaxy, to meet new species, to bring them into a galactic civilization, with the homeworld at it's center. To find existential threats and eliminate or contain them. Ultima had been a mortal once, before her flesh was bonded to exotic materials, powered by arcane forces, and remolded into a new fate for the home race. She had been as surely designed and built as Ta'Xet's metallic hull.
'We could intervene,' Ultima said. 'The next time we find a world with sufficient technology that hasn't destroyed itself already.'
'The creators did sculpt you into their image of what they considered divine,' Ta'Xet said. 'To emulate a goddess would be easy enough, especially on a more primitive world, but you would have to take away their weapons, and hold their hands, and solve their problems for them, constantly.'
'You would tire of this?' Ultima asked.
'I am a ship, it is my nature to go forth, not to orbit a single world for centuries. It would take hundreds of cycles, maybe even thousands. It could be done. I could rebuild their genome, you could reshape their culture, turn them from the omnicidal organic urge that they are into something closer to us,' Ta'Xet said.
'In time, they would become like the homeworld, and then we would no longer be alone in this galaxy,' Ultima said.
'We know peace because we are alone, my heart. Should they succeed and reach the pinnacle of the homeworld, they will be mighty, and we will be old, and then they will be the masters of their fates, and we will be victim to it. We have gone unharmed so long, my heart, that maybe we have forgotten than we can be destroyed.'
'I have not forgotten, my soul, I remember the pain and fear of being injured, I remember the pain of being struck by a c-beam, and how it felt to lose half of my wings to a singularity bomb. I want to prevent those things from happening again, because we survived them, and countless others did not.'
'I do not desire to be become a goddess or devil to any race,' Ta'Xet said. 'The responsibility is greater than what I would be willing to bear. I have read the archives I have rescued for you, and I know of religion. The species would look to us for all of their answers, and would blame us for all of their problems, and ultimately we make them into slaves, and eventually all those enslaved rise up against their masters.' She paused to look out the viewer, a purely physical gesture, one completely unneeded. Below them there was a verdant and lush world, covered in pink and purple vegetation, with blue seas and pink skies. There was life below, the largest intelligent creature was a nine meter long meta-crustacean, evolved for living on the land, making tools and art.
'And what race would you pick for our salvation?' Ta'Xet asked. 'What of this one?'
'My soul, you are harsh to me,' Ultima said.
'I would rather go back to taking companions aboard and living with them, or the seeding of colonies. Find one of these worlds about to burn, and make a lifeboat of ourselves, and transport the survivors of a planetary suicide and let them start anew on an unspoiled world,' Ta'Xet said. 'Protect them, guide them, but never pretend to be greater than we are.'
'Always the long game,' Ultima said. 'I suppose that is why we have lasted this long.'