This world was burning.
Gabriel gazed out across the scorched landscape, a sight he’d seen too many times. By now, he was numb to it.
An alien (although Gabriel supposed he was the alien in this circumstance) came forward to greet him. He’d been on enough ruined worlds to know the score by now. The alien, a green thing with a round body and angular limbs gurgled at him. Gabriel’s translator worked through the language.
“What are you?” the alien asked.
“A visitor,” replied Gabriel.
The atmosphere smelled of seared flesh and stone, of a world that was in its death throes. In the distance, there were the crumbling remains of a city. It must’ve been a sight to behold in its heyday, but now, it was only bones, the corpse of a fallen civilization.
“Can you help us?” the alien asked.
Gabriel frowned. “No. It’s too late. You’ve destroyed it. Used it all up.”
Another world, consumed by the plague of life. God, he was beginning to hate it all. Even the goddamn microbes.
“Can you take with you you then?”
There was a desperation in the alien’s squeals. Gabriel put his hand on the pistol on his hip. Sometimes, a native was foolish or crazy enough to attack him. He couldn’t blame them.
“It’s always the same,” he said. “I’m always too late. Hundreds of worlds, all of them gutted and consumed, devoured, split open like empty corpses.”
“Then why did you come?”
He didn’t know why. Sensors had confirmed everything. There was no reason to land except that he had to see it with his own eyes. He turned back toward his ship.
“Please,” pleaded the alien. “Take me with you to your world. Study me. Lock me in a zoo. I’ll do anything to get away from here.”
“There’s no world to go back to,” said Gabriel. “It’s always the same. Every world.”
The last human boarded his vessel and set out to the stars. Maybe, he mused, the next world could be saved. It was what he always told himself. And when he was alone in the void of space, he sometimes even believed it.