When the crewman found the angel hovering outside the ship, the first thing we did was cut off her wings.
It screamed. The scene was awful in every sense of the word. Something about that sound made everyone in the entire room cry, even the most hardened atheist skeptic among us fell to their knees and wept and secretly wondered if there might be something more to this universe than empty space, radiation, dead planets, and stars.
It was the ultimate tragedy, and it was beautiful, oh so beautiful.
I carry those wings with me to this day. As the surgeon who performed the exploratory surgery, I felt I deserved some trophy, no matter how token. The wings are brittle now. Most of the feathers have fallen away. The dry surface of the hollow jointed bones glisten with pearly iridescence. In those swirling mute colors I can almost see another way, but the wings are dead. They will never move again. We sacrificed our guide in our determination to make our own way, to understand the universe on our own terms.
The angel did not survive for long afterwards. She looked at me with blank white unblinking eyes and a chiseled face that betrayed no expressions. Yet, her cry echoed in the small chamber, and I felt her sense of pain and betrayal. I understood her confusion. It made no sense to her, and it made no sense to me (I was just following orders, after all), but it happened, facilitated by my own hands. She bled air and song and life, and we returned the favor by severing bone and flesh and fiber.
I fear it was unavoidable -- when the known meets the unknown, the unknown always dies away. Unable to accept a mystery, too egotistical to accept there may be any other way, we always kill what we cannot understand.