A high pitched whine escaped the stabilizers as the ship drifted downwards. Mark sighed. He was doing that a lot lately.
"We have reached the designated work site on Eriandus." chirped Nav.
"I had noticed." Mark grimaced.
The jolt in travel had been rather hard to miss. Nav had chosen a route through a subspace highway, which for organisms like Mark nearly always proved to be a jarring experience. Regularly bending reality often isn’t that great for your joints, or for your relationships, considering subspace jumping has the nasty side effect of killing everyone you ever knew due to the relative nature of time.
Mark sighed again. This had the frustrating effect of fogging up the inside of his suit helmet. He paused, and gathering all of his disdain into a single motion, uncurled himself and dropped from his cockpit chair on to the spongy planet surface. Despite a seemingly temperate biome, the atmosphere clung to him, hazy and thick. Mark's ventilators oscillated furiously to compensate as he trudged to the edge of the cliff where his ship had perched. Far below the cliffside lay the rubble of what appeared to be an entire civilization. Partially melted spires speckled the ravine, and distantly from under some of the metal debris, poked what appeared to be a few limbs. A stench soon followed.
"Great." Mark said.
"Mass extinction is not great!" offered Nav.
"That wasn't... Forget it." Mark turned back to the ship. "You know, it's getting pretty old only having you for conversation."
"My system is currently 23,640 years old." Nav said brightly.
Mark sighed a third time, not that anyone was counting. Unloading his work gear from the ship down to the maintenance point was tedious work, and Mark was trying very hard to not be alone with his thoughts. In order to pass the time, he wondered idly about what might have caused his current project. Perhaps this planet had been obliterated at the hands of a neighboring planetary warlord, or a terribly bored BIGBOT, or just a very embarrassed intern. There was probably some clues hidden among the ruins, but Mark didn't particularly care enough to investigate. He just had to clean it up.
The mustard soil stuck to Mark’s legs as he shuffled down along the ravine. It gummed between the fingers of his gloves, and misted his mask. He picked his way through the greyish growths that peppered up the slope for a good while before pausing his descent to rest. Mark raised his arm to wipe his goggles of the mist as it calcified, but the slog beneath him shifted as he did. Slipping, he lurched over to brace himself with one of the stilted grey bits but it crumbled in his grip. Sliding now, Mark wheeled furiously to stay upright but the planet’s gravity had other plans. Mark bounced as he fell, as gracefully as a water balloon might, before tumbling into a thicket of grey. As if only to spite Mark further, the ground beneath the thicket gave way, and half of the entire sorry mountainside fell in on itself, and into darkness.
Mark wheezed, and the suit hissed, and the cave groaned. Mark thought those were some very undignified sounds to die with. Empowered by this thought, Mark rolled over to push himself up before hearing a groan that didn’t belong to him, or the cave for that matter. He blinked and sat up, which this time produced a gurgle, which also was not his. Mark found the source of the noises in the form of a disembodied head belonging to one of the unfortunate members of the now eradicated city below. The creature hadn’t had the good fortune to die yet, and was rather upset about it. It garbled at Mark, apparently distressed at its dismemberment, and also because Mark was sitting on its trunk. Mark rolled over, the other way this time, and sat up against the wall opposite the head.
“Nav?” Mark called.
A small flashlight flipped open on the shoulder of Mark’s suit and Nav blinked to life.
“Howdy!” said Nav.
“Can you talk to this thing? It won’t shut up.”
The trunk wiggled reproachfully.
“I know this one!” said Nav. “It’s saying something about a prophecy … Its lineage is really great I guess... Now something about a beacon? Oh! I think it wants to pass its quest on to you! Seems awfully dire.”
“No thanks.” said Mark. “Besides, from what I saw out there it looks like you kinda already missed the boat anyways.”
“Aw.” said Nav.
The creature gargled, and in its anguish, died.
“…Oh no.” Mark mourned quietly. “These things are carbon based. Do you have any idea how much harder that is to clean up?”
To the layman, the pack Mark had strapped to his back would have resembled a simple vacuum cleaner. To a professional, the pack would have also resembled a vacuum cleaner – but only because it happens to essentially be a vacuum cleaner. This model however would make any veteran door salesman shake in their boots – because any vacuum salesman worth his salt knows that as the standards set by the Union of Intergalactic Waste Transport mandate that vacuums carried by workers such as Mark contain a smallish black hole as its power source.
Smallish is a technical term in the industry which denotes the size of a black hole that ranges between tiny and small. More absolute terms cannot be used because the black hole grows in size as it is fed more mass, and also because the potential range in size of black holes is so large, that numbers lose any real sense of value. Beyond a certain limit in either direction, the black hole reaches a critical point at which the union no longer offers coverage over. When a black hole container grows too large to be used safely, or it is messing with space-time in an amount that is no longer convenient, the tubes are dumped through the nearest wormhole receptacle.