Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

I drop from warp-space long before entering the Veretti system – a safety precaution that has become standard protocol on my salvage missions since my near-fatal incident in the Hox system. The extra flight time adds up, but it’s better than colliding with some laser-riddled chunk of battle cruiser upon re-entry.

I use the extra time to scan for anything out of the ordinary – rare radiation or a conglomeration of manufactured mass – anything that might signify a unique discovery that could flesh out my collection. I ignore the common flotsam. Amateur work, too simple and not very rewarding. I’ve refined my tastes and select only the best artifacts these days. It pays off in the long run and my clientele appreciate the rarity of my finds.

Whatever happened in the Veretti system was apparently pretty volatile judging by the amount of rubble and radiation clogging up the inner planets. As my forensics program sorts out the gritty details of, what I like to call, ironically, the Creative Impulse, I do more a conventional scan with my eye and a gut feeling I’ve learned to trust in my old age. It’s amazing how dumb computers can be sometimes, especially in the realm of esthetics. Programmers are full of it. Subtlety of contour, line and color is lost on AIs.

However, navigating tricky debris fields is one thing AIs excel at. While my ship picks its way through clouds of rock and wreckage, paying special heed to forgotten mine fields and unexploded ordinance, I spend some time researching and collating the data, attempting to piece together the story of what happened here.

Story is important. It adds a level of sophistication to the artifacts buyers like. Thee wealthy don’t just want great, rare art. They want a conversation piece.

Sifting through the aftermath for something interesting can be a tedious enterprise, though. After all, one nuclear or chemical Armageddon is much like any other. Several times I’ve left a site empty-handed after months of meticulous picking through haunted alien necropolis.

Good art takes time and patience and today I am rewarded two-fold.

On a moon I find a war-beast bronzed by the ionization of its battle-mech. A perfect storm has somehow preserved in intimate detail the alien’s gargantuan figure, its twin claws raised in savage fury, its sinewy tentacles poised in an imposing, yet delicate asymmetry of combat. The molecule-thin titanium alloy coating its entire body glints in the distant sun’s azure light. A rare find indeed.

I hit the jackpot on one of the home worlds, though – or what’s left of it. Typically a dead planet yields little more than pockmarked landscapes riddled with broken cities and deserts of bone dust, but whatever force bombarded this unfortunate race’s home was a real planet-buster. At the center of a cloud of rock and dust spins the cooled remnants of the planet’s molten core, now twisted and frozen into an amorphous blob of iron and nickel that whispers of the devilish forces which re-molded it. Its magnetic fields are staggering and the radiation levels are through the roof, but this only raises my price.

Some say mine is a macabre (pre-) occupation – profiteering from alien holocausts – but I believe I’m offering a valuable service: – uncovering fragments of eons past to remind anyone who cares how long and troubled the path of civilization truly is, and how many once great cultures have fallen to its many violent pitfalls along the way.

So what if I happen to strategically place those pitfalls myself. Therein lies the art of war.


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