Dr. Archibald Petraeus, Ph.D., walked across the rugged landscape, since he was unaccustomed to other forms of travel, and climbed up onto the stony hill-like formations as he went along, to keep his bearings. He looked down at his tracker. There were no satellites over this planet, so the macrotech could only be trusted so far, but he trusted it to get him far enough to spot his colleague, Dr. Jay Christian, Ph.D., whose escape pod seemed to have landed closest to Arch's. As he reached another low peak, he looked again, and with his keen eyes he could make out another escape pod some distance away. Knowing where his goal lay, he set out with a renewed haste. He hoped that maybe he could get there soon enough, but as he approached the pod, he saw the cover pop open and his colleague begin to move, and he sprinted, though he knew that he was already too late to do what little he could. The screaming started.
"Jay! Close your eyes!" Arch thought that that might help, but wasn't sure. He had not prepared for such bad timing, expecting to show up either early enough or too late.
Jay managed to close his eyes, finally having something to do other than panic utterly. He was bent over on the ground at this point, and was still rocked by a panic of something innately unfamiliar, and could barely begin to process it when he felt the gentle caress of the ground several feet away from his torso to either side. He instinctively pulled away as one does when brushing up against an unexpected object, which, in his panicked state, rendered him into the fetal position. Arch arrived next to Jay just in time to kneel down and catch him as he rolled to one side.
Jays eyes bolted open, and he looked up at his colleague. "Wha... How... Wh-Wh-Wh... The ground, there and--" Jay attempted to articulate, but interrupted himself as he looked in the other direction, which now lay behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw his wing.
"You have wings now," Arch attempted to explain to Jay, hopefully before he could react instinctively or irrationally. "The unfamiliar sensations that you're feeling come from your wings. You're unaccustomed to their form, but, moreover, you're unaccustomed to being a hexapod."
Understandably, Jay took a moment to process this. He looked back at his wing, extended it, retracted it, extended it partway, moved it somewhat forward and somewhat back, and then retracted it again. Able to pull himself together, he stood up, then sat on a bit of his escape pod that was at the appropriate height. He looked back at his colleague with fear, sorrow, and confusion in his eyes. "What... How did this happen?"
"We were fleeing the Earth to escape from EdwardN23, who was devouring everything to expand himself. We were going as fast as our little ship could take us, when the alarm started going off, indicating an incursion. We'd somehow been contaminated. All of our usual defenses were fighting it at full force. We took control of everything that we could and turned it against him, but it was no good. The battle raged all over the ship, but he was winning. As everything was consumed to make more and more nanotech on both sides, some of our cargo managed to flee to us." Arch paused to think of how best to introduce his next point.
"I don't know whether he crept in on his own, or if he was carried by one of the birds, but one way or another, he got to us. Our medical nanobots fought him off as well as they could, but as you know, they're not fast enough, either. They did everything that they could to keep us alive, of course, but it was a lost cause. I had to use our weapon of last resort.
"We had enough of the antigen to cleanse the entire ship. I didn't know whether it would work against something that reproduces so quickly, but we were surely dead if we didn't do something, but only probably dead if we lost our medicals. So, I released it, primarily into the ventilation system. Fortunately for us, our ship was based on macrotech. Unfortunately, the maltech ate anything that it could get, and we stepped up our defenses to compensate.
"By the time that I got everything sorted out, though, I seemed to be the only one still conscious, and I saw.... I'd best not describe what I saw," he said, shaking his head. "Hell, I'm glad for the couple of times that I went blind. I remember putting everyone into escape pods, though, and I must've programmed the failing ship to launch us when we got close enough to the planet. I kind of remember passing out into a pod."
Jay considered this, then said, "I'm not sure that I understand what happened to me, though."
"I don't know all of the details of it, but it seems that, with EdwardN23 consuming everything, including us, the resistance provided by our securities, our commandeered maintenances, and our medicals, and then the antigen encroaching onto that, considering that the most efficient use of matter is to use things as they are, rather than disassembling and reassembling them, the matter that we'd lost, the medicals' attempts to preserve our lives... It seems that the only way to keep us alive, given the medicals' inevitable demise, was to combine us with some of our cargo."
Arch looked at his tracker. The nearest escape pods were numbered four and one. As he recalled, those housed Robyn and John, respectively. He began to think about how academia would be affected by the death of, effectively, everyone.
"So, if the antigen destroyed all the nanotech on the ship," asked Jay, "then the only thing protecting us from disease is our naturally-occurring immune systems?"
"Well, I'm not sure how far this change goes. I haven't been able to find any equipment besides this," he responded, holding up his handheld device, "and the escape pods, of course, which are too big to lug around."
"Should we salvage them for parts?" Jay peered into what sufficed for a cockpit in the device that had gotten him to the surface.
"We can worry about that later. They're not going anywhere, and we need to find the others, hopefully before they regain consciousness, too. Are you OK?"
"I think that I can handle it, now," he said, standing back up. "Which way?"
Arch gestured in the direction of the nearest escape pod and started off. Jay followed after him, moving his wings about a bit, attempting to get used to them. Feebly so, he thought, for that he doubted that he ever could. He felt strange feelings everywhere, but noted them in his chest. Instinctively, he put his hand on its center.
"I have a keel," observed Jay, feeling his chest.