Let Slip the Dogs of War.
and @Lady LasciviousIzanagi SystemNew IshtarNeriven
It had been some awkward months since Kamenymir and the Commonality of New Ishtar made formal contact, mostly through video calls and other indirect means as the KDD’s Department of Diplomacy was thoroughly overworked. Relations were, on the part of the Kamenyans, cordial enough, and their diplomats engaged with the Ishtari on equal footing. The general population however knew next to nothing of this particularly strange nation, even after the initial confusion of mistaking them for aliens was cleared up.
Mysterious, exotic, and just a little bit frightening. Ishtar was the perfect opportunity for the discerning news corporation to make great audience scores, and as travel visas became a possibility between the two nations, Blue Star News Network was the first to take advantage of it. Very soon, a small shuttle-sized ship stamped with the corporation’s logo carried Nadzieja Finkel, popular journalist and reporter, through the Gate and into the Ishtari system.
The shuttle emerged into the cluster of defensive arrays, diplomatic stations, logistical hubs, surveillance stations, barracks, civilian residential quarters, and more that made up the already sizable and still growing Ishtari presence around the Gateway. The space around the gargantuan structure had, in the span of six months, transformed from an idle curiosity home only to a few unmanned probes to a veritable hive of activity. An estimated sixty thousand people lived in stations around the Gateway now, acting as a convenient intermediary point between the distant planet of New Ishtar itself, and contact with the broader galaxy.
With the diplomatic situation already well cleared between the two peoples, Nadzieja’s shuttle was directed to continue on its course to New Ishtar proper, the massive planet illuminated by its star only dimly visible in the distance through the vast expanse of space.
The true destination of the shuttle lay thousands of kilometers away from the planet’s surface, in the geostationary ring of satellites, dockyards, protruding space elevators, and more that hovered in a dense cloud above the surface. Over twenty million Ishtari lived and worked in orbit over the planet’s surface, spending decades at a time in space helping to establish further dominance over the stars. Numerous stations existed for purely civilian purposes, and it was one of these, a massive rotating ring that dwarfed even the largest battleships, that the shuttle was bound for.
The station had been constructed almost entirely of materials mined from the moons of Ishtar and the asteroid fields deeper within the system, rather than ferrying materials up to space. Its bulk seemed to balloon wildly as the shuttle closed the distance, docking clamps latched to the vessel and guided it in to the massive internal hangar.
A Sanguine Strain attendant waited by the airlock with a bright smile on his face. “Hi!” He exclaimed, his voice carrying the same curious buzzing and accent as most Ishtari seemed to speak with, “Er, that is, hello and let me be the first to welcome you to the Civilian Hub, I understand you’re a journalist from the KDD?”
“Yes I am, from Kamenymir though. The KDD is our government. But yes!” She replied with a heavy Kamenyan accent, giving that trademark news anchor smile as she stepped out of the airlock. “My name is Nadzieja Finkel. This is my cameraman, Nico.” She pointed to the man behind her, busy configuring a large camera and holding several bags at the same time. Both of them were significantly taller and larger than the Ishtari, but the woman with fiery hair in a loose ponytail and wearing a neat shirt and black skirt gave off a very different vibe compared to Nico with his baggy pants and a tank top that made him look like a building site worker. “Hello,” the big man waved at the white-haired attendant with a suitably big smile on his face.
If the receiving Ishtari thought anything of the stature of the Kamenyans, he didn’t show it. Beaming as cheerfully as ever, he inclined his head in a slight bow towards the visitors, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Nadzieja and Nico.” He said, and by his tone the words were no lie, “If you don’t mind, I need to log the reason for your visit today. Just a formality, I’m sure you understand.” He looked up at them expectantly, still beaming, “So, what brings you to New Ishtar?”
“Journalistic reporting,” Nadzieja answered. “We’d like to film a documentary about New Ishtar’s culture and society.” She fastened a small microphone to her shirt’s collar as she spoke. “In fact, is it alright if we start filming now?”
The man let out a small “Aah..” of understanding, before returning to his normal, peppy self. “I don’t see why not! Though if you wish to go planetside there are… certain precautions we require you to take - for your own safety, you understand. The planet’s atmosphere is toxic to unadapted human life, and there are numerous parasites and airborne threats that can prove just as lethal.”
He gestured them to follow, “If you don’t mind following me, I’ll get one of the clinic workers to explain it to you.”
Leading the duo from the airlock and into the massive rotating space station, the little greeter deftly escorted the two Kamenyans through a crowd of onlookers, many of them waving cautious hellos or calling out poorly practiced Kamyenan greetings in thick accents. The clinic was a small room built into the wall of the sprawling interior of the station.
A voice from behind a small partition rang out in the strange dual-tone language of the Ishtari before another Ishtari emerged, the glowing tentacle-like growths that sprouted from her head in place of hair moving in response to her emotions.
“Oh! Visitors!” She exclaimed, switching to English, then looked to the crew, “I take it he’s come here to make me explain why you can’t just go to the surface without some sort of protection?”
The reporter nodded amicably. “So I’ve understood. Toxic atmosphere and parasites, that kind of stuff right?”
The camera’s little red indicator light was already blinking, the cameraman expertly switching angles along with the conversation, the stabilizers affixed to his shoulder working to ensure smooth camera work.
She nodded. “Correct. At least he got that right. So here’s the basic rundown - we can try to find you two some hazmat suits that will fit you.” She looked them up and down, frowning, “And that… will be a challenge. The second option since I’m certainly not going to recommend full genetic augmentation to people who don’t intend to stay - we developed a short-acting injection that’ll give you… most
of the immunity we have for a period of about a month. It’s not recommended to take it more than once or twice in a row, though - can start causing some… side effects. Only good if you’re staying a short time.” She looked between the two of them, “Preference?”
“Well I’m not filming a full-length documentary in a hazmat suit, that’s for sure. I think the injection will be just fine, like a mini-Hekate.” She turned her head to look at Nico, who simply shrugged. “You’re the boss. I don’t feel like spending days in a suit either.”
The Akkoro Strain woman clapped, “Excellent! I’ll just be a moment, if you don’t mind.” She said, disappearing once again behind the partition and reemerging some minutes later with two large syringes. Gesturing to a touch screen off to the corner that seemed oddly out of place with the gentle, sloping elegance of Ishtari decor, she spoke once again. “If you would, please sign the waiver - the injection is still in its early phases, and though we are confident the injection itself will cause no problems, the immunity it offers is not perfect. Therefore we’d like you to sign this form. If you don’t feel like reading legal documents - it’s not our fault if you do get sick, and if you do get sick do you want us to not touch you and send you back home for treatment, or take aggressive action to save you? I- I don’t think you need to worry, but it is a precaution.”
Nadzieja took a moment to overview the document and quickly decided to let the Ishtari treat her in case something went wrong; they made the stuff in the first place after all. After both Kamenyans signed the waiver, Nico leaned towards her. “If I grow a third eye I’ll say it was your idea.” Nadzieja snorted. “Shut up.”
The woman behind the counter waited patiently for them before nodding. “Right, thank you, and apologies again for the hassle, now, if you’ll just roll up your sleeve…”
After an hour’s waiting period for potential reaction, the two were escorted by the same ever-cheerful Sanguine Strain man towards the transport bay for the Central Neriven Space Elevator. “Well, this is where I bid you farewell, let me know when you get back, though - just ask someone for Vetusin. I’ve love to hear what you think of our home.” He beamed at them, then bid them farewell.
A small host of other Ishtari bustled in beside him, giving the Kamenyans looks ranging from indifference to curiosity to a similar open friendliness as they filled the space elevator’s passenger compartment and strapping themselves into the provided chairs, some offering guidance to the Kamenyans on how to do the same - located at the center of the station, the compartment had no artificial gravity from rotation. A curious array of compartments and what appeared to be folding beds lined the walls of the sturdily built room. A voice spoke first in the Ishtari language, then in English, and then numerous other old earth languages, announcing to the riders that high-g acceleration would be imminent, and to brace themselves for the jolt.
“New, eh?” Said one of the Ishtari riders, another Akkoro Strain, “Not sure how it works where you’re from, but it’s gonna take a day or two to get down.” She nodded around the room. “Once we get moving the room will adjust, it’ll let you know when it’s turning, and otherwise you’re free to move around - though you might just wanna sleep it off. S’what the beds are for.” Satisfied the Kamenyans had their answer, she flashed them a thumbs up, “Well, welcome to New Ishtar, then.”
As the elevator finally descended below the stratosphere, viewing screens blinked to life. Below them stretched what at first appeared to be a sea of white and green but was gradually revealed to be a city. A massive, sprawling city that seemed to stretch on towards the horizon.
Neriven, home to almost a billion souls, a city almost the size of the European Union of old earth. Towering alabaster spires and elegantly twisting transit lines crisscrossed the city that stretched on unto infinity. The city was a breathtaking sight - seeming to blend futuristic architecture seamlessly with sparkling rivers and lush forests that even during the day could be seen to glow in dim bioluminescence. Forty-one hours after it departed geostationary orbit, the massive space elevator car rolled to a halt within the soaring pearlescent shroud built to receive it. Tired, cramped, and sore from hours spent in high-g, the passengers slowly disembarked. Many waved farewells to the newcomers they had shared the ride with, and before the Kamenyans stretched a massive arching grand hall, through which thousands of Ishtari moved and bustled about. The Kamenyans stood in the center of the capital city of New Ishtar, strangers set loose in a very strange land.
The pair followed the flow of people to the outside, taking in the sights. The city looked beautiful and chaotic, compared to the neat and orderly streets in the cities of Kamenymir. Nico whistled. “We’re gonna need some drone shots.”
“Yeah.” Nadzieja stretched herself, groaning. “It was a pretty long ride down, though. We should find a hotel before going exploring.”
“Agreed. All this stuff isn’t any lighter here than it is back home.” The two reporters set out to find someone who could understand them, looking for a local to help orient them towards the Ishtari equivalent of a hotel. On a planet mostly populated by strangely mutated humans, it was quite a different experience than what they were used to, the most normal-looking ones being those similar to the cheerful attendant who welcomed them back in orbit. Of course, everyone on Kamenymir knew what the Ishtari looked like now, but it wasn’t the same in person.
As the two reporters meandered through the city, they saw numerous strange and alien sights that could have scarce been imagined back home. Beyond the normal Ishtari Strains most prominent, they saw a smattering of other variations, some of them with brightly colored skin that seemed to shimmer in the midday sun or strange golden designs upon alabaster skin that twisted and swirled with every step they took. A gently sloping path lead to an overlook set against one of the city’s enormous reservoirs. A single pair of people sat atop it, a Shinchu Strain adult and Akkoro Strain child. The child could be seen to throw something small into the reservoir with the guidance of the adult, who caught sight of the foreigners and gave a friendly wave.
The child’s attention, likewise, turned to where her chaperone was looking - as she saw two abnormally tall figures with strange equipment standing lost in a sea of people, she shot up from her position, waddling towards them with surprising speed as her caretaker ran after her.
“Autis!” She could be heard to shout, followed by the name ‘Autis’ once again and a stream of something spoken in the Ishtari tongue. The little girl deftly avoided her pursuer, running up towards the two strangers until she stood in front of them, wide-eyed. In one of the tentacle-like appendages growing from her head where there might be hair clutching a curious brown cone, into which a shining brown substance had been placed. It appeared to be melting.
A moment passed before the Ishtari child wrapped her arms around the legs of Nadzieja, babbling something neither could understand, before her caretaker finally caught up. “I am so sorry!” She gasped in a thick accent, bowing low to the Kamyenans. “Please, I hope I have not caused offense, she simply ran off before I could catch her an- Autis, please.”
As she said these words the little girl had extended the ice cream towards the Kamyenans, stumbling out more words that, while the newcomers could not understand them, conveyed all the meaning they needed to regardless.
Nadzieja laughed amicably, waving her hand at the other woman. “Don’t worry about it, it’s alright.” It wasn’t the first time she had children run over to her, after all. She was about to pat the child’s head, but… Should you really pat a head full of tentacles for hair? Besides, it might not be socially acceptable. So she just gave the child a friendly smile, glued as she was to her leg.
“The star of the show as always, Nad.” Nico said in Kamenyan with a smirk.
“Well maybe I just look more friendly than you do.”
“Is that your daughter?” The reporter asked the visibly embarrassed Ishtari, a little confused by the bowing.
The Ishtari woman looked up at them, visibly confused. Her eyes pulsed a gentle lavender as she raised a finger in question before lowering it. “N-no, why would she be?” She asked, before crouching down and gently trying, and failing, to pry the small child away. “Autis, please leave the nice strangers alone, I don’t even know if they can eat that.”
Autis refused, pushing the ice cream up as high as she could and beaming up at the Kamyenans with wide happy emerald eyes. With visible effort she seemed to dredge up the words she was looking for, “Ice cweam!”
Autis’ chaperone sighed, “I took her for some ice cream since she did well in her- I’m sorry you don’t need me to explain all this. I, um, please let me know if I can do anything to help you, I am very sorry.”
Nadzieja giggled. “That’s right, ice cream! I bet that word wasn’t too hard to learn, huh?” She said to Autis. Reporting her attention to the adult talking to her, she shook her head. “There’s nothing to apologize for, really. We could use some help, though. Do you know if there’s a hotel, or somewhere else where we could sleep and leave our things nearby?”
Nico was not missing a bit of the rather adorable interaction with his camera, the multiple lenses pointed towards his colleague and alternating between Autis and her chaperone. It was great material, but it also felt much better than the run-of-the-mill reporting. Vacations on the job, what could be better?
The Ishtari woman looked confused for a moment, “Hotel…” she muttered, clearly forgetting the words in question before perking up, “Oh! Right, of course, please excuse me. There are official residences for offworlders on sanctioned business. You’ll need to provide evidence of your visa, since the spaces are very difficult to build from what I hear. They have to build them environmentally sealed and with multiple redundancies for the people who chose to stick with an environmental suit. Would you like me to show you the way?” She paused, “Oh! And my name is Siste- no, wait, you can just call me Suvetis, I keep forgetting the big names confuse th-” She was cut off as Autis tugged on her pant leg, pulling her attention back downwards again.
Sighing, Suvetis looked back towards the Kamyenans, “And… would you two like some ice cream?”
“Oh, that would be lovely. Right, Nico?” The cameraman shrugged, the camera’s stabilizers automatically compensating for the motion.
“Sure, I wonder what it’s made from here.” He smiled at the two Ishtari. “My name is Nico, and that’s my colleague Nadzieja. It’s nice meeting you, Suvetis and Autis.”
Suvetis raised an eyebrow, “The ice cream’s made from milk. Cow’s milk, I think? It’s some old earth snack if memory serves, the American parts of the ark kept that little tradition alive. The one she’s got is chocolate. I’ll… well, I’ll make sure whatever you get is safe to eat.”
A moment of silence elapsed before Suvetis crouched down, hoisting Autis onto her shoulders where she now sat eye level with the offworlders. She smiled, flashing them a thumbs up and yelled something in Ishtari, before pointing off in a seemingly random direction. Norilko smiled, “Well, follow along then.”
Leading the group through the gently winding paths, the initially confusing and chaotic nature of the city seemed to grow more familiar with each passing second. It was certainly a departure from the planning of Kamenymir, but it had a harmony of its own, and it seemed only a short time elapsed before they stood before a small temporary structure erected in the shade of a large tree, intricate glowing patterns visible through the cracks in its bark and strange curling growths seeming to sprout from them at the height. A Gorgon Strain stood behind the structure.
“Suvetis! And little Autis! I see you’re back again.” She called, before doing a double take, “And I see you’ve brought friends! Hello strangers!” She paused, then smirked, “I take it Autis tried to offer them ice cream?”
“Hello,” said Nico and Nadzieja at the same time. The Gorgon was quite a sight for them after a long time of being much taller than everyone around. Of course, like everything else on Ishtar, a four-armed half-snake woman was anything but familiar.
Nadzieja nodded. “She actually managed pretty well. So, I understand that you make ice cream the way it used to be on Earth? Which flavors would you recommend?” The orange-haired reporter asked with her usual polite smile, examining the array of unknown types of ice cream.
The Gorgon woman smiled, “Well, I’m certainly glad to hear that. She’s a precocious little thing. So you’re from…” the woman trailed off for a moment, either studying them or tuning in to some mental buzzing, before popping back into reality, “Ah! The KDD! Welcome! I don’t think we’ve ever had many people from there visit. Well, let me welcome you as well - and to answer your question yes we do! I think it was the ah… the Amyerikahi- the people on the Ark from the United States of old earth that made sure it stayed intact.”
Suvetis sidled up, rattling off a sentence or two indecipherable to the Kamenyans, but after which the ice cream lady grinned, “Well, that’s easy. Hmm… that pretty much narrows it down to chocolate and vanilla. You two know what those are I assume?”
“Chocolate and… vanilla? No, I don’t think so.” Nadzieja mused pensively. “We don’t have any plants or animals from Earth on Kamenymir. All of those that our ancestors brought with them died, you see. All of our food is native to Kamenymir.”
“They’re like spices, right?” Nico spoke up, making a visible effort to recall the information. “I remember that from my history class back in high school.”
The two Ishtari raised eyebrows in unison. Suvetis seemed at loss for words, while the ice cream woman simply said, “Oh…”
A moment passed as they seemed to struggle to think of what to say before Suvetis perked up, “Well, I suppose you’re in for a real treat then. We’ve… all sorts of things from old earth. Not everything
of course but…”
The ice cream woman grinned, the glow from her eyes flaring brighter momentarily, “Gotcha! One of each for the both of you coming right up.” With a flourish, her four arms deftly worked to scoop together the ice cream for the Kamyenans as Autis beamed. Expectantly, two adult Ishtari watched the foreigners for their reactions.
The journalists thanked the ice cream lady as they took as she handed the iced treats over. Both looked surprised when they tasted it, letting it melt in their mouths for a few seconds, before resuming the degustation.
“It’s like…” Nico began, pausing with a very confused look on his face. “...Nah, I don’t know,” he uttered, finally giving up and taking another bite.
“It is very different from our ice creams. We make them with wheatroot starch, river fang eggs and Mazur’s bell extract… Well, I don’t suppose you know what these are.” Nadzieja smiled. “Yours are very good, though. Completely different texture and taste, of course, but I like it.
“Mhm. Yup.” Nico simply added, giving a thumbs up.
“Well, we’re all certainly glad to hear it.” Said the gorgon woman, “I’d best let you lot get back to… whatever it is you were doing before Autis did… well, what kids do I suppose.”
The residential building built for offworld guests was a jarring contrast to the normal architecture of the city. Instead of gentle curvature and elegant, flowing construction that seemed to follow the waves of some unseen ocean current, it soared above the Kamyenans as a thick, reinforced structure of evidently recent construction. Peculiarly, it had no windows, no apertures. The entire construction was perfectly sealed. An elaborate security system could be seen out front its singular entrance preceding a series of redundant airlocks.
Suvetis, having taken on the informal role of tour guide, explained. “You should be able to take the masks off once you’re inside. Not sure how much they told ya, but the atmosphere here’s got lethal quantities of… various sulfur compounds, ammonia, and so on. You’ve got that injection so you don’t need to worry about the bugs for a while, but we can’t immunoboost you to metabolize hydrogen sulfide. That and a lot of foreigners aren’t like you, they won’t trust anything of ours so they wear those sealed suits. Building’s airtight so that they can take off the suits without dying, and you can take off the masks without worrying as well.”
Autis, perched upon her shoulders, babbled something in the Ishtari tongue that made her caretaker break out in a grin, “And, I suppose, we can accompany you inside if you want.”
“I see no reason why not.” Nadzieja grinned in turn. Her and Nico reached into their pockets to take out their visas which had their names, stay duration and reason for visiting, as well as the name of the company they worked for. The blocky building looked somewhat more familiar to the Kamenyans compared to the rest of the city as they approached the airlocks, although the featureless construction was austere and perhaps a little oppressive-looking. Still, a place to stay the night while they were on the job was welcome.
The guards before the airlock had a different disposition to most of the Ishtari they’d encountered up until now. Stiff, straight backed, standing guard and watching the foreigners with laser focused vision. To the Kamyenans it was unmistakable - these were professional military, as if the assault rifles and the angular bulges of body armor beneath the long uniform coats weren’t clear enough indication. They had seen a few other armed Ishtari, but none as heavily as this, or as severe in their disposition.
One approached, a Tiamat Strain, holding out a gloved hand to halt the little group. “Paperwork.” A moment passed as she scanned Suvetis and Autis, a light red glow alighting in what were evidently cybernetic eyes. “Sister-Caretaker 1-43 Suvetis Sings Ancient Hymns of Beauty, what is the purpose of your visit to foreign national residential building three? For what purpose have you brought Autis 5342 with you?”
Suvetis, for her part, simply sighed, setting Autis down before adopting a similar military posture. “I’m- I am informally escorting the foreigners around Neriven to assist in their purpose of visitation, and escorting them to their place of residence. I encountered the foreigners while escorting Autis 5342 in my duties as a caretaker.”
The guard nodded, her eyes flashing another time as she studied Suvetis a moment longer before simply stating “Very well.” Turning back to the Kamyenans, she held out a hand. “Paperwork, please. We cannot permit entry without proper identification.”
“Here.” One after the other, the two Kamenyans handed over their visas along with their KDD national ID card. The Ishtari soldiers seemed extraordinarily stiff and professional, to the point of sounding a bit like automated receptionists. Nadzieja wondered if it was the impression they wanted to give, or if that was a consequence of their actual training.
The soldier scanned the documents for a few seconds, before returning them. “Everything seems to be in order. Please proceed to the first airlock. They will instruct you further from there.”
The guard stood aside, returning to her previous, motionless position.
The group passed through an airlock, next, before entering the next part of the security checkpoint. Though clad in the same garb and similarly equipped, the soldiers at the next station seemed far more relaxed. A Shinchu Strain man came forward, analyzing them for a moment before his face broke into a cheerful smile, “Hello, welcome to Foreign National Residential Building Three, we’re sorry about the inconvenience at the front there. The guards are a bit… stiff - we’re still figuring this sort of thing out, so our apologies for that. We’re gonna need you to turn over your bags for a security and decontamination check. And…” he cleared his throat, “We’ll need you to use the decontamination showers provided, as well. There are private stalls available as well if you wish - our apologies for the inconvenience.”
Expectantly, he held out his hand, before turning to Autis and Suvetis, “And, of course, this applies to you two as well.”
“That’s fine, I think we could use a shower anyway.” Nico cut the camera and unloaded himself from the several large bags that contained their clothes, spare parts and filming equipment, BSNN-issued personal protection gear and emergency snacking supplies.
After a quick but welcome shower in the private stalls of the facility, the pair emerged on the other side and dressed back up with their now thoroughly sterilized clothes. Retrieving the rest of their baggage as well, they waited for their two guides to come out.
Suvetis, for her part, did not bother to duck into a private stall before stripping. She first removed a large framed handgun from a concealed spot inside the coat she had been wearing, along with several spare magazines of ammunition. The coat itself followed, along with the retaining holster, her undershirt, and other garments. The Ishtari guards seemed utterly unbothered by the weapon she carried, and simply placed it and its ammunition into a separate container for safekeeping. Autis, with her help, also undressed, and the two walked into the public decontamination showers, emerging from the other side with her chest fluff visibly soaked, and a towel wrapped around her body.
“Well!” She said, secondary arms tucked neatly by her side, “How’s it feel to get out of the masks?”
“Much better. They’re not that bad, but still, not having something on your face is appreciable.” Nadzieja answered, still drying her long hair with a towel while Nico politely turned away.
“You can say that again. It’s like I’m back in the marines all over again with that damn helmet on my head. Eugh.” The large man quipped, rubbing his face with his hands. “My nose has been itching for an hour straight.”
Suvetis grinned, “And to think you’re the ones who took the shot.” She jerked a thumb at a series of fully enclosed hazmat suits positioned nearby, “The ones who don’t want them have to wear those. Unless they want stuff laying eggs in their lungs, that is.”
She tossed the towel aside, stepping back into her freshly sterilized coat and other clothes, “Right, well, I guess I’ll show you lot to your rooms, since… I guess I’m your tour guide now.”
She hoisted Autis in her arms, beckoning the Kamyenans along with the secondary bladed pair, and set off through the building. The air around them had a faint chemical odor to it, as though the building was routinely cleaned from top to bottom.
“You’re on the first floor - not a lot of foreign visitors right now. You’ll find spare masks in the room, just in case, and there’s some dividers within the wall if you need some privacy.” She turned to the group, stopping short of a blank white door, “Well, this is it. I’ll leave you be if you’d like to get settled. Autis here probably needs to take a nap, anyway.” She looked up at Autis, saying something to her in the Ishtari tongue, to which the young Akkoro Strain fervently shook her head in protest. Suvetis laughed, “Ah, kids.”
“Of course. Thank you for the directions, Suvetis and Autis.” Nadzieja and Nico waved goodbye to the tentacle-haired child and her chaperone, before finally letting down their heavy bags in the room.
Nico took a large metal box out of one of the bags and hooked it up to a portable computer, connecting his camera to it as well and sitting on his bed. “Looks like we still have time before nightfall. Plenty to do some wandering around, see if we can catch something interesting.”
Nadzieja sat down on her own bed, checking her watch adjusted for Ishtari time. “Yeah. I’m sure we’ve only scratched the surface, there’s probably a lot more exotic stuff here. Speaking of, did you notice anything strange back when we met those two?”
The cameraman raised his eyebrows. “You’ll have to be more specific.”
“When I asked if Autis was her daughter. It seems like kids aren’t usually with their parents here, given her reaction.”
“Huh. Yeah, that is pretty strange. We should keep an eye out for that and investigate into it.”
“Uh huh. That, or maybe something was lost in translation. We’ll see. How’s the upload?”
Nico checked the computer’s screen. “Just done. All of the footage is up on the ship now, I’m making a physical copy too.”
“Let’s go then. No rest for intrepid reporters!”
A few minutes later, the two journalists were out again, now carrying a significantly lighter load and determined to dig up more footage-worthy tidbits.
The two found Suvetis and Autis nearby, Suvetis crouched low and explaining something to the little girl who folded her arms and stuck her chin up defiantly, to the exasperated sigh of her caretaker. Suvetis looked up in surprise as the door opened. “Oh! Wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon.”
She stood, hoisting up a protesting Autis and walking back over to the two, “Didja need something?”
“Oh, hello again! I didn’t expect to see you there either.” Nadzieja and her companion turned towards the familiar voices. “We don’t really need anything, actually. We were just going exploring a little, see what there is to see.” Besides her, Nico was already setting up the camera back onto his shoulder and testing the stabilizers.
“Exploring, eh?” Asked the Ishtari woman, “Well, I’d be happy to give you some suggestions, or even show ya ‘round after I drop the little one off.” She turned to Autis, who, despite her best efforts to the contrary, sleepily rubbed her eyes with one arm, the other holding on to her chaperone. “Because some of us are sleepier than we want to admit.”
Nico chuckled. “Yep, just like my niece. If it isn’t a bother to you, we’d be glad to have you be our guide again. We got ice cream last time, so I think we’d better stick around.”
Nadzieja rolled her eyes, smirking. “Hey, you do remember we’re here for work, right?”
“Of course, who do you take me for? I’m just saying, nothing wrong with having fun on the job.”
Suvetis grinned, “You may be here for work, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it, right? Tell you wh- oh, no wait.” She frowned, tapping the side of her head as though forgetting something patently obvious, “Alright, so, ask the guards for a digital map, we had to create them for you offworlders - once you’ve got it, wait for me at the Yusanis plaza, I shouldn’t be too long. After that, we’ll see about finding you two some interesting things to film, sound good?”
“Sure, see you there.” After obtaining said map, the two Kamenyans made their way to the designated place. Along the way, a small drone taken from Nico’s backpack followed above, filming panoramic views of the city and circling around like a bird of prey once they reached the plaza.
Roughly fifteen minutes later, Suvetis approached the two, no longer with Autis in tow, primary arms folded across her chest as she watched them. “You know, I heard someone was flying an unknown drone around the city and I was alarmed for a bit, thought some PUNTers had gotten a surveillance drone in on us to look for war preparations.” She drew closer, grinning, “But then I remembered we had two big oafs from offworld stumbling about. Caused quite a stir, your drone did.”
She leaned against a decorative tree, “Get any good pictures?”
“Yeah.” Nico replied with a wide smile. “It’d be a pretty lame way to do war preparations, though. One slow civilian drone flying a few dozen meters up in the air? Sounds like someone’s jumping at shadows.”
“Paranoia or not, better just get it back down before local law enforcement comes to give us a talking-to.” Nadzieja smiled, looking around the plaza. “So, you told us about interesting things to film?”
Suvetis smiled, “Jumping at shadows is a pretty good idiom, yeah. Everyone’s nervous. We’ve been building up for the attack for a while now, locked off comms with them.” She gestured around, “It’s been two centuries since we were last at war. Everyone’s worried. I’ve heard even Tiamat’s concerned about the situation.” She sighed, “But that’s why we’re enjoying things while we can. My number’s not been called up yet, since I work as a caretaker, but nobody wants to see war, y’know? A-” She paused, “Local law enforcement…? Sorry I think there’s a translation error ah...” She looked into the sky for a moment, tapping her temple, before looking back at the two with an embarrassed expression, “What does that mean?”
The reporter raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know which term you’d use… Uhm, police? People in charge of arresting criminals?”
Suvetis frowned, staring at the two blankly for a moment before she snapped back to reality, comprehension dawning after a search through the ishtari net. “I… we don’t really have that, I suppose. I guess we do it communally, but…” She trailed off, “Either way, nobody’s gonna come yelling at you as long as you keep it pretty low. As far as things to film… well, you’re asking about an entire nation, so there’s plenty. Anything in particular you’d like to see? Food? A park? Combat sports? Art installations? Museums? ‘Fraid I can’t show you stuff from our Net which… well, that’s a lot of it, I won’t lie. But you don’t have the…” She trailed off, tapping the base of her neck, “Which limits your options somewhat. Ah, well.” she smiled, “I still have plenty of ideas.”
The next week passed in what seemed a blur of excitement, new sights and sounds, foods of old earth never before experienced by a Kamenyan citizen. The Ishtari welcomed the foreigners into their city warmly, eager to show them, and their nation, the wonderful things they had built and created, to give them and their people a warm welcome with open arms.
The Kamenyans glimpsed barely a fraction of the enormous city they had arrived in, walked through but a tiny shard of its near-endless sprawling spires and gleaming walkways. Suvetis, some times with Autis or another Ishtari child in tow, guided them about the city, but even she thought a natural born resident could offer only a glimpse of the world around them.
On the first day, they visited an amphitheater in the heart of the city, witnessed the crowds cheering for their favorite fighters as players and commanders dueled each other across a holographic chess board. The Kamenyans looked on first in horror at the bloodshed, then in confusion when their chaperone explained that no contestant had died. The Kamenyan reporters resolved to learn more later.
The next days passed in a similar manner. Suvetis, and some times Autis, showing the Kamyenans around the city. Its wondrous sites and gorgeous vistas. Museums, art galleries, resturaunts, and more. The seventh day of their visit, she took them to her place of work, where Ishtari children were raised.
“Aaand here we are!” Proudly announced Suvetis, gesturing to the building in question. Much like with all Ishtari architecture, its pearlescent, sleek exterior seemed to rise up from the ground below as a snow-white blade of grass among many. It flowed together with the city around them, elegant and artistic like with all Ishtari architecture.
Suvetis smiled, “Well, then, shall we?”
“Lead the way.” Nadzieja nodded, following Suvetis towards the childcare center. She and Nico had grown fond of their guide, after spending a good portion of the week exploring the Ishtari capital with her. “I’m curious, and I’m told so is our audience. Are children not raised by their parents on New Ishtar?” She asked, Nico’s camera rolling as always.
Suvetis turned back to them with a curious expression on her face. “Well… no, I suppose. It’s… you and your people don’t have the time or patience for a full biology lesson, I suspect, but it has to do with how our reproduction evolved aboard the ark. While we are still capable
of the… ‘normal’ method, we also evolved a few different ways, which is how most of us came to be, myself included.” She looked the two up and down, smirking, “What if I were to tell you I had hundreds of brothers and sisters when I was born, born at the same time as I was?”
The reporter looked puzzled. “Are you talking about cloning? It’s been considered once in our own history, but it wasn’t needed in the end.”
“I- wha- no I-” Suvetis stammered, before comprehension dawned and her knees buckled under her as she began to laugh. She clutched her stomach in one primary arm and supported herself against the walls with another as she laughed and laughed. “Oh, oh no my friends it’s not cloning.” She chuckled, gradually regaining her self control. “No, no, I think a better comparison would be to say most of us ‘hatch’ from ‘eggs’.” She grinned, “Again, it’s a very complex topic and one I am not
trained in, but nobody could care for a hundred to two hundred children on their own, and we have no real concept of a close family unit like your people have.” She turned, guiding them into the building, “Instead, well, everyone helps raise the new generations.”
“Oh… I see, that is uhm… quite unusual to us, yes.” Nadzieja cringed. A civilization of orphans? She had trouble reconciling the fact, and could only imagine what the reaction would be back home. Still, she maintained her affable attitude with practiced ease. Besides, what a scoop! Ishtar was more incredible than anyone had predicted, and Blue Star News Network had taken the lead on the info. This would surely allow Nadzieja Finkel, intrepid Kamenyan journalist and news anchor, to reach new heights in her career.
Suvetis guided them through the building, showing them through an environmentally sealed, armored plexiglass partition. Through them, gently glowing incubation pools could be seen attended by masked, suited workers. She gently placed a finger to her lips, and guided them on.
They passed through a nursery wherein numerous sleeping infants could be seen, their technologically advanced cribs connected to a forest of trailing wires and tubes that ensured every facet of the children’s health was monitored at all times. Automated drone-like creatures moved through, performing much of the grunt work of caring for the children, while volunteer caretakers held them. The entire facility was built from the ground up to raise a staggering number of people from birth to childhood. They progressed through, children of different ages attended by a swarm of caretakers and assistant drones. Gradually, the ages of the children approached that of Autis, and it was at length that Suvetis placed her own hand upon a biometric lock, the doors sliding open to permit entry to the room.
Inside were some dozen children, none of whom could have been over the age of six by standard earth years, all of whom ceased their activities and looked over to the sound of the opening door, staring wide eyed at the stature of the Kamyenans. Among them they recognized Autis, whose expression shifted to one of joy. She shouted something and immediately ran past Suvetis, whose expression shifted from surprise, to annoyance, to one of adoration as the little girl clamped her arms around Nadzieja’s leg once again. Autis looked up, beaming, and proudly shouted out the words she had been practicing, albeit with difficulty - “H-hello, miss Nadzieja!”
The orange-haired Kamenyan laughed, effortlessly scooping up the child in her arms. “Well hello, Autis!” She rubbed the little girl’s cheek with her thumb. “You’ll be speaking English better than me soon.”
“It’s good that she’s not learning from you, Nad.” Nico grinned. “Your accent is terrible.”
“Shut your face, Nico. It adds to my charm.” She smirked, turning back to Suvetis. “So, at what age do the children leave this… facility?”
Suvetis frowned, “Well, usually at around… a moment please.” She looked up, pinching her lip for a moment, “Ah, right, usually at around the equivalent of six or seven years by the SSC? We have secondary and tertiary facilities for raising them. Once they leave the final one… twenty one, I think that’s what it is by the SSC, they undergo the implantation of the neuroport, and their first rejuvenation. We don’t let them near it beforehand, the technology’s reliable but… little developing minds don’t need additional risk, y’know?” She hoisted another child up, “I suppose you must think we’re terribly strange for all this, don’t you?”
“Honestly? Yes. You are a strange bunch, I have to admit.” Nadzieja said with a light, neutral tone. “I’m still wrapping my mind around it, but… Well, I guess I don’t really know how I even feel about it yet.” She said truthfully, without that conciliating filter typical of her profession.
“I mean, almost everything here has been strange for us, really. I imagine you’d feel the same way if you came to visit Kamenymir.” Nico said after making a face to Autis.
Autis giggled, stammering out something in response, and giggling some more.
Suvetis, however, did not respond.
Autis occupied the attention of both Kamyenans, enough that they didn’t realize for a time that the adult Ishtari in the room - Suvetis and one other, an Akkoro Strain man, had gone still, staring up at the sky with an expression of sheer terror on their faces. Suvetis could be heard to murmur, “No, no… no no no, no! No they weren’t supposed to- oh no…”
Outside the building, audible even through its heavy walls, sirens began to wail.
Nico glanced at her, brows furrowing with worry. “Suvetis? What’s going on?” Nadzieja looked over, still holding Autis. Seeing the fear on the Ishtari’s face, something terrible must have been happening.
Suvetis looked back down with her features marred by horror. Before she could speak, the unmistakable sound of missile launches and defensive batteries opening fire filled the air around them, audible even through the heavy walls of their building. A droning, endless cacophony of noise and violence erupted as defensive emplacements, some of them two centuries old.
Suvetis grabbed Autis protectively as she and the other Ishtari caretaker began barking orders to the children to drop everything and follow them. Almost as afterthought Suvetis turned to the Kamyenans, “We need to go. Now.
Both of them didn’t need it said twice, hurrying along with Suvetis. “Scheiße! What are they shooting at?” Nico exclaimed, more to himself rather than asking anyone in particular. He had trained in simulations and wargames enough to recognize that the sheer volume of fire meant an extremely serious situation.
“Missiles!” Screamed Suvetis back to him, her voice trembling with fear. Their feet echoed through the halls, soon joined by the sound of hundreds more as the building’s occupants raced for the exits or towards subsurface levels. The facility was in no way prepared for what was to come as enemy ordnance hurtled towards the planet. “The New Terrans, they launched their attack, and we need to get to a shelter no-
Her words were cut short as the world exploded around them. An all-consuming wall of force rushed through the city as nuclear warheads exploded in the air above them. An incandescent plume of death rose up as, even though the defenses defeated most of the incoming warheads, many still made it through. The building buckled from the strain, its walls caving in and collapsing in on their heads. Suvetis screamed out a warning and hurled herself forward, pushing the Kamyenans along, as the rubble collapsed in around them.
Hard, unyielding debris all around. Sharp pain in the side. The pressure prevented him from breathing. He pushed. Nothing. He would die there. He pushed again, with every bit of strength that his body could provide. Something shifted. Inch by inch, one piece of rubble at a time, he clawed his way toward the light.
Nico emerged from the pile of debris, gasping for air and coughing as his abdomen was finally free. Through the destroyed walls and heavy dust, the outside was barely visible, light from several fires filtering through. “Nad!” His voice was hoarse. “Nad!” A terrible fear grasped him as he looked around, trying to get his bearings. Then, a noise came from under a piece of collapsed metallic alloy. With an urgency close to panic, the cameraman began to lift and push aside the bent metal, until a bloodied hand came out wriggling from underneath. Some minutes later which seemed to last for an eternity, Nadzieja managed to crawl away from the metal debris that trapped her, groaning and whimpering. Her right forearm was bent at an angle, clearly broken.
Gently sitting her down, Nico knelt in front of her after giving her a quick look. “It’s just the arm, you’ll be fine, alright?” He said, hands on her shoulders, trying to reassure her. She nodded, closing her eyes and holding in the pain that began to replace the numbness. Nico got back on his feet, surveying the ruins. “Autis!” he called. “Suvetis!”
As Nico began to lift and drag aside pieces of concrete in search of survivors, Nadzieja gritted her teeth and got up on wobbly legs, desperately looking around the destroyed hallway, calling the two names as well. “Suvetis! Autis!”
Nico would see a heart-wrenching sight. Around him were strewn bodies. Mangled bodies. Limbs torn off and crushed by falling debris. Blood, bright red and brilliant against the grey dust and rubble, seeped from under fallen masonry. The acrid taste of destruction burned in the back of the mouth. Devastation surrounded them. Sunlight flooded the ruined structure from its new apertures, and the horrific, unmistakable sight of mushroom clouds rising into the atmosphere far in the distance.
Some of the Ishtari accompanying them had survived, though many were badly injured. The other caretaker that had joined them as they ran dragged herself free from the wreckage, her leg below the knee a mangled mess of violated flesh. Suvetis too had lived, remarkably unscathed, too - but she sat motionless, staring in mute, stunned disbelief at the scene around her.
The lifeless body of Autis lay before her, chest crushed by an errant piece of concrete, as did those of many other children, and many of her adult countrymen. Suvetis could not bring herself to speak, to move, she could barely breathe as she stared in shock at everything. The first time she had seen death. Had even known a person who had died. As she sat amidst the rubble she felt her world crash in around her. She did not react to Nico’s frantic calling, merely sitting in silently, dead to the world around her.
Nico rushed over when he finally spotted her through the concrete dust. His words died in his throat when the terrible scene unfolded before him. Next to him, Nadzieja gasped and choked, almost losing her footing with the shock and horror of what she witnessed. Both of them stood there, helplessly watching. Nadzieja’s shoulders shook with sobs, her left hand covering her mouth.
Seconds passed, seconds that felt like hours.
“We have to move.” Nico’s mouth was dry. “Come on, Nad. Suvetis!” He clambered over the debris and grabbed the motionless Ishtari by the shoulders. “Suvetis! These people need help. Where’s the nearest hospital?”
Nico, too, was in shock. The unbearable feeling of helplessness and the horror of Autis’ death left him with only one thing: he fell back on his training, following the procedure that he was taught like an automaton. He did not feel or notice his own tears as he lifted Suvetis up and onto her feet in an effort to snap her out of her shock.
Suvetis didn’t move initially, merely swaying limply in his grasp as she stared into nothingness past him. The other adult caretaker had propped herself up against the wall with the aid of another survivor, her mangled leg hanging limply. She looked around in a similar daze - thoughts flashed between them, unheard by the Kamyenans as the reality of their situation flooded in. Imagery of orbital combat glittered in their minds’ eyes as they struggled to collect themselves. Though all adult Ishtari had some military training, none of those present had ever been prepared for this
The dread realization sunk deeper as the news fluttered between them - one of the primary nodes of stored mental constructs had been destroyed in the blast. Its technicians killed. The minds of hundreds of thousands stored within annihilated in seconds. Though Suvetis’ was stored elsewhere and remained intact, many of them realized that, just as the Kamyenans they were now very much mortal.
The other caretaker hobbled over to them, leaning on Suvetis and whispering into her ear. Slowly, Suvetis seemed to come out of her stupor. Though she still stared in horror and shock at the carnage around her, she was at least cognizant of those who yet lived.
“I- the nearest h-hospital was destroyed. I can’t get anything from them I- oh heaven how many people just died? That was a nuke! D- did they really just…?!” She stuttered, her eyes wide in disbelief. “I- I, right. A shelter. We need… we need shelter.” She said, with more conviction. Her wide eyes still stared straight ahead, but she pulled herself together. There would be time to grieve later. Survival instincts took over, now, and she helped her comrade steady herself.
“The nearest shelter is a kilometer away. They’re still in orbit, so as long as we don’t get nuked again, we should be able to make it. Do you two have that body armor you brought? You’re gonna need it. I don’t think we have anything in your size.”
With shaky steps she helped pull the remaining survivors free of the rubble, heaving aside blocks of concrete with surprising strength for the small height of the average Ishtari. The column of survivors made its way through the newly ruined cityscape, as war descended upon New Ishtar.
Day 1 of First Galactic War
Military Casualties (CNI): 713,000
Military Casualties (PUNT): 21,000
Civilian Casualties: 42,300,000
Forces of the People's Union of New Terra launch surprise attack on Commonality of New Ishtar
Defensive fleet of Commonality of New Ishtar seriously damaged
Major destruction averted by intervention of expeditionary force of Chosen of Ashevelen, permitting withdrawal to deep-system shipyards
PUNT forces launch salvo of nuclear weapons against New Ishtar, destroying significant infrastructure and resulting in tens of millions of civilian deaths
[Emergency transmission dispatched:]
”This is Admiral 1-103 Akari Stands Resolute Against The Dark. We have come under concerted assault by the forces of the People’s Union of New Terra. We have suffered direct strike by numerous nuclear weapons. Casualties unknown, but high. Requesting support against the aggressor. Heaven preserve us.”