The Many did not stand idle while the One expanded their military assets with inclusion of the hybrids, their district of the city was similar to a bee hive.
Hundreds of the Many moved around, fortifying their walls, closing off alleyways, cementing the roads and most importantly, building up the embassy. A small-ish building that sat atop a closed off Vault, surrounded on all but one side by houses, workshops etc.
Space was hard to get-by for the Many as their brothers, The One, would expand more and more everyday taking back the city from Immortalis.
At long last the embassy was built. A place where the other nations might join the Many in diplomacy. No longer the Many will be ignored, no longer they would be contempt with just being alive.
The Old One stood in front of the embassy and looked at the Many that stood ahead of him, all dressed in different manner of clothes or haircuts. Anything to make them less “One” and more “Many”.
“ Brothers! Rejoice! I have always dreamt that one day we will be different, the one day, the old days will return! Individuality must prevail!
May this be the first step towards freeing ourselves from the shackles of the One!
” said the Old One, shouting at his brothers. It was dangerous to talk like that when the One could hear as they could always decide it’s time to purge the tumor that the Many are but at the same time, these were the words which the Many needed to hear.
With those words said, the Old One turned around and walked inside the embassy. As he arrived at the communication room, he smiled. This was the first true step towards his dream and the ending of his nightmare turned real.
“ Greetings survivors of humanity! I am the Old One and I represent the Many. A subdivision of the One clones you have seen on the Meeting Place or during the WFR. While my brothers choose to share their every thought/memory and consider themselves in being one person, the Many choose individuality.
The Many and I have worked hard in the past weeks to build an embassy on our home planet and wish to invite dignitaries of all nations to join us here for better relationships or to simply learn from us.
A warning for those that come, our side of the Gateway has hundreds of EMP weapons surrounding it that were left by the Immortalis, the resident aliens of this planet. Neither the Many, nor the One have any way of stopping them.
If you wish to join us, please let us know and we will send a ship to meet you at the Meeting Place and they’ll bring you here or if your ships can handle the EMP, come and contact us.
We are not One but we are Many.
” said the Old One. His voice was different from the usual one that the others had, it was older and kinder. More akin to a grandparent’s voice than that of a hardened soldier.
“Sister-Captain Naysibis. Are you sure this is wise?”
“No, no I am not, Yayota. And yet someone
needs to do something. You heard those broadcasts clear as day, clear as everyone else on this rust bucket. That’s why you’re here. Because someone needs to pull the Commonality’s head out of its ass and take the initiative. If we have a chance against those One freaks with these Many?”
“Then we cannot forgive ourselves for abandoning them to a Unity Without Self.” Interjected another voice. “You are clever, Yayota. We all trust you. The EMP shield will work.”aaaand if it doesn’t we’ll only have to regret it for a few minutes until we suffocate, Nayris!
Yayota thought to herself with bitter humor as she finished her fifth double-check of the ship’s systems. “All systems are green, Sister-Captain.”
Sister-Captain 72 Naysibis Forges Her Own Path With A Blade Of Flame stood at the bridge of a nearly hundred and seventy year old vessel, apparently downed during the Great Xenocide by planetary antiship defenses erected by the native aliens. Though it had suffered extensive damage on impact and over time, miraculously the vessel’s main structural integrity had not been compromised. Thus, the group of enterprising Ishtari who had descended upon it had been able to, after some time and effort, restore it to some semblance of working function. It was not anywhere near the modern vessels of the Commonality’s navy, or would it stir envy anywhere else.
But it was
spaceworthy. And that was what mattered.
“Right. Everybody aboard, listen up. We’re about to make the jump through this Gate into the system of the One. If we survive - which I have full confidence we will - try to avoiding pointing guns at the locals unless they give you a damn good reason. You know as well as I why we’re here, and if we fight I’d far rather it be their fault than piss off the Commonality. Anyone wanting to back out, your last chance was when we left low orbit. Strap in. We’re going to low-power mode. Let’s hope the EMP hardening works. If it doesn’t, ‘least I don’t have to see some of your ugly mugs at the end of this. Mirrors are an awful lot less awkward anyway.”
The ship’s lights flickered and dimmed as the crew braced themselves for their potential deaths as the EMP swept over them. For several minutes in hung in the balance, a network of frayed and vermin-eaten wiring patched over by the careful ministrations of one woman and a team of like-minded assistants the only thing that stood between life and a grim death stranded in space.
And yet it held. A cheer went up amongst the crew as they began to restore full power to the ship, charting a direct course for the planet that lay ahead, and hopefully a meeting with the Many.
As soon as the EMP hit finished, a One frigate and two smaller kamikaze ships approached the Ishtari ship. One of the advantages of having their Gateway close to the planet was the speed at which the One could reply to any potential hostile ships.
" Unidentified vessel. This is the One. We haven’t received any records of your arrival from our brethren from the Meeting Place. Please state your business and let us know if any repairs are required to your ship.
We are more than happy to trade at an exquisite price.
” sent the One frigate captain, a Grant, to the yet-unknown vessel.
The One proved to be very knowledgeable at using whatever tech they could get their hands on and making work for the One. A broken ship could always be used by the One and if whoever decides to come into the One system without answering to any warnings of the EMP then their ships could be traded for safe passage back to their homeworlds.
“Negative. EMP shielding has held. We require no repairs.” Came the reply in thickly accented English. “This is the CCS Bohol
. We are not an official delegation, but a group of volunteers from the Commonality of New Ishtar, responding to the broadcast from the Many. Requesting permission to land planetside and establish communications with their embassy staff.”
“ Greetings Bohol! We are pleased to see others being curious about us. We understand we’re more different than most.
The Many, as they like to call themselves, forgot something in their broadcast. They don’t have a spaceport and, unless your ships or yourselves, can survive the weather outside our dome....please follow One-Two-Four-Two, the ship next to yours and they’ll direct you towards a spaceport.
We will make sure the Many are notified they’ve received guests and they’ll come to collect you, unless you wish us to guide you to their side of the city ourselves. We are more than happy to keep you safe.
” the threat, not by the One but of their own city, was clear. While the One managed to almost fully exterminate the remnant machines from their side of the city, the Many couldn’t claim that and the road between the Many compound and the One controlled territory was not short.
A dry laugh came from the other end. “Different indeed. As are we, sir, as are we. We will wait for them to come retrieve us, and we thank you kindly for your hospitality. We’ll have to see about fixing that spaceport problem for them, won’t we?”
The Ishtari vessel followed those of the One without further interaction - barring that required for the docking procedures planetside. The Ishtari, for their part, were resolved to remain on their craft until such time as the representatives of the Many had presented themselves. Giving themselves over fully to a relatively unknown entity - especially one that… unnerved them as much as the One did, was not an idea they relished in the least.
“Everyone has suicide capsules on hand in case they try to take us, right?” Said Sister-Captain Naysibis, looking around to the sizable contingent that had elected to go with her. “Not that I expect we’ll need them, thank heaven, but just as a precaution…”
“And going armed to the teeth is part of that same precaution…?” Said another, looking at the captain with a faint smile.
“No, Nayris, that’s obviously
just to look impressive. Now quiet down, we’re leaving soon. Keep the weapons unloaded for now, and if we’re asked to disarm we’ll return them to the ship.”
The assembled group was a ragtag assortment of Ishtari from all walks of life. Considering the mission’s unofficial nature, none of the active duty professional soldiers counted among them - but plenty, such as Sister-Captain Naysibis herself, had extensive prior experience in addition to the universal training all of them received.
“Any big words, Yayota? You were always dreaming about making first contact on your own.”
The engineer paused, looking thoughtful for a moment. Slowly, she grinned. “Fuck it. You only live once.”
The One ship guided them silently to the spaceport. To call it a spaceport was a very big word but still that would be the best word to be used to it. Multiple buildings were sewn
together and huge holes were dug in the ceilings, allowing ships of multiple sizes to enter inside.
The inside itself looked, as many of the One buildings, as if you’d enter a different world. Long gone were the destroyed pieces of a long-lost civilization, gone was the always present smell of ash and stale air.
The One gathered around the Ishtari ship in full armor, surrounding it with a few hundred soldiers. If this was a well disguised attack, they’d be ready.
“ Ishtari captain or crew. Please exit the vessel peacefully. If we see any weapon, we will open fire and we assure you, we don’t have a problem if we die.
This is just a precaution, we hope you understand.
” the voices came out all at once then repeated only once but a Grant who walked right up the Ishtari ship. No armor, no weapon.
In turn, after a moment’s delay, Sister-Captain Naysibis exited the ship. No trace of weapon or armor could be seen on her person. She was instead clad in what appeared to be a worn down naval officer’s long coat, insignia replaced with colorful patches with writing in an unusual script in prominent black lettering. Her hands were raised over her head, though an easygoing smile on her face and her relaxed posture made it clear she held no concern - or if she did, that she hid it well. Behind her followed perhaps a half dozen more, and glimpses of more Ishtari on board could be seen in the ship’s open bay.
“Greetings, earthlings!” She called out cheerfully. “I come in peace! Take me to your leader!” She grinned wider, undeterred by the difficulty of pronouncing the language. “No weapons! No weapons or armor, see?”
As Naysibis came out of the ship, spears, bows and a few machine guns got pointed at her straight away, only for a few seconds before the all clear was given by the lead Grant.
In proper military fashion, the Grant stood at attention and nodded respectfully at Naysibis and with a short hand signal, informed her to stand at ease. Anyone, if they did even the most basic military training, would recognize the signal.
“ Earthlings, take me to your leader. Smart. You forgot about the fact that you’re supposed to be little and green or grey. Or the fact that neither of us looks like an earthling. Your companions and yourself, more so than us.
” the Grant’s grin matched Naysibis and with a small wink, they turned around and started walking slowly away from the ship.
“ Follow us, please. Your crew may stay here if they so wish and we’ll bring food and refreshments here or they can follow us to a canteen.
Our…brethren, the Many as they call themselves, will be in with us shortly. We’ve just received word they’ve made it half-way through the Gap.
If you choose to follow us, please stay close to us. We wouldn’t want you to get lost around here.
” said the Grant as they slowly walked away until they stopped shortly, turned to Naysibis and said :
“ If it will make you feel safe, you may bring something to defend yourselves with.
In front of them, the One brought forward meat from different animals, water and different juices of plants they’ve bought and cloned.
“I suppose if you really wanted to nitpick, we ought to have been little green men
too.” Naysibis quipped, smirking, “But nothing like a little ice breaker to ease the tension, right?
More Ishtari disembarked, following Naysibis closely as she followed their hosts without an apparent care in the world. Those following had brought with them the weapons and body armor shed by Naysibis and the first to leave - though they took care to keep them unloaded and make that fact clear to the One soldiers that surrounded them. Some of them watched the One with the eyes of soldiers, analyzing them as potential enemies if things turned sour. And, they realized, many of the One were doing the same. Others looked around the building in open awe, taking in the sights that surrounded them and drinking in every ounce of fascinating architecture that they could.
Naysibis tapped the One she was following. “This… Gap. What is it, exactly? I assume there’s something dangerous here if you’re allowing foreign visitors to bring weapons off ship.” She frowned, “That said, thank you for that. It’s an alien feeling to many of us, going without one.”
The Grant turned their head ever so slightly and listened to Naysibis as she thanked them.
As Naysibis’s compliment reached the Grant’s ear, they said, with admiration and respect in their voice : “ We understand the feeling very well. We’ve been at war since the days of old Earth. Truly sorry for having to strip you of your weapons, better safe than sorry is needed sometimes
”. They made a small break and then continued :
“ You may call us, Grant if you wish to ask something. There are no other Grants in the room, easier for the others to know who they’re dealing with.
We have also haven’t caught your name and we are sorry for the lack of etiquette. These are trying times for the One and Many alike.
The Gap? It’s what the name implies to be honest. The Immortalis have left presents to any who would claim their city, as you might’ve noticed when your ship got EMPed as soon as it arrived.
These presents are deadly. Very deadly. If one is not prepared for them, one might die. It is one of the many reasons why we have not opened up an embassy on our planet. The Many decided to do so without asking for approval or even thinking it through completely but we allowed it which is why you haven’t been turned around when you arrived but we digress, sorry…
This district and many others have been cleared out almost completely during our exile but not all parts of the city are free of danger. The Many, in their effort to distance themselves from us and our protection have settled two districts away from our current position, roughly 2 hours away. This created the Gap. Part of a destroyed district which we haven’t yet cleared out and which the Many have been trying to for weeks already but with no success.
” answered the Grant, their voice was akin to a teacher’s voice while explaining to a pupil.
“I am Sister-Captain 72 Naysibis Forges Her Own Path With A Blade Of Flame.” She answered, looking at the man with an even expression as she weighed her responses. “Then this city is dangerous from automated weaponry still within it, then? Interesting. Very, very interesting.” She gestured to the Ishtari bringing up the rear. “We’re all military trained. Not all of us have extensive experience. But plenty of us have more than enough experience using these things. We can help neutralize whatever threats present themselves during the crossing.”
“Either way - I’m curious. You’ve been at war since the days of old earth, you say?” She folded her arms, “Well shit, you can’t just drop that little tidbit and expect me not to ask more. War against the city? War against each other? Was there something else living on the planet when you first arrived?”
The One just listened to the very, very long name of the Naysibis and shook their heads and laughed internally. They sure do have long names. They fantasized a medieval ball with someone having to announce every Ishtari coming in, that guy would have to be paid his weight in gold.
“ Please allow us to call you Naysibis. Your names are…different than expected but understandable considering how far we’ve strayed from Earth.
Neutralize the threats? That is a job for the Many as you are guests. They have yet to prove themselves and that is their task. We think of them like children not knowing what they want and as such, we treat them like that. As for the other parts of the city? That’s our duty. The One will inherit what the Immortalis have left behind. We have proven that even since we arrived on this planet.
We have been at war, yes. We don’t know how your…cloning process functions but ours provides us with a total recall of our memories. We remember our first words, the first time we made a step, the first time we killed and the first time we died.
We remember the wars on Earth. We’ve been in a few and then we left Earth with the colony ships, only to arrive here. Only for the wars to continue. Let us answer your questions in order.
Yes, the city was hostile to us from the beginning. Nano-swarms, robots and other mechanical wonders have been houding us at every step in the first days. War against each other? Yes to that as well, starvation makes monsters of all. We’ve seen mothers eating their young. Men raping women, children and elderly for the sake of two minutes of pleasure.
And ultimately, yes. When we arrived there was something alive on this planet, hope. Hope that humanity will not end with our ship. That hope died the moment we crashed and realized nothing can live in this tomb of a city.
” said the Grant, a dark expression on their face when they mentioned the war against each other.
As they walked, they finally reached the cantina. A big room filled with tables made with different bits and pieces of metal and stone.
“ Please, take a seat. Refreshments will be brought to everyone while we wait for the Many to arrive. They should be close to us.
” said Grant as they raised their voice, so that all the Ishtari could hear them.
Naysibis bit her tongue, remaining silent for a time as messages and thoughts flashed silently between the assembled Ishtari, those on the ship, and those within the Commonality who had tuned into what they assumed to be a doomed venture. Debate raged among them for a time. Whether or not to tell these One of their own experiences. Whether to hide them. To lie. Many still insisted they leave the planet immediately, others now regretted not joining them.
Many of them were struck by the similarities they held with these One clones. A soldier from earth, embarked upon one of the great arks that would save humanity only to meet horrific calamity that threatened the survival of everyone aboard, preserving some facsimile of human life through cloning technology.
She gritted her teeth.
“We do understand, actually.” Naysibis said at last. “We, the Ishtari, are mostly composed of clones of a single woman from old earth. We… we don’t remember what her name was. We forgot most of what there was about her to data corruption. But our Ark, too, suffered horribly. We committed atrocities against each other. We warred against each other. And it was only through cloning that we survived. Our progenitor was a woman from a region of old earth called the Philippines. She was an experienced soldier, who later became a well known geneticist. She worked for the corporation responsible for commissioning the ark, Xerico.” She looked to the One beside her with an expression of… if not friendliness, understanding. Strategically omitting details of their time spent in the void, she continued. “Our new world was a hellish place. A place of absolute nightmare. Of the first hundred to make planetfall, three returned alive. The world had an intelligent, and highly advanced, native species too. Our people have only known peace in recent times.” She sighed, “It was worth it in the end. We’ve achieved something none of the other nations seem to have. I think she’d be proud.”
After a moment, she smiled again. “And of course you can. You don’t think we use our full names in normal conversation do you? We’d never get anything useful done.”
The Grant listened closely to their story, their eyes locked with Naysibis’s eyes all the time she talked. Listening to the story and at times, nodding. A collective grasp covered the One, planet-wide when Naysibis mentioned their progenitor. The real identity of the person who they now all share the face.
“ Philippines, we remember them well. We’ve fought there ages ago. We suspected you looked similar to someone we knew and we now know for a fact who you are.
Let’s just say that James William Grant knew your progenitor. Coincidence or destiny, you may call it. What’s that information worth to you and your nation, it’s something we can discuss later, if that’s what you wish and with someone of…a diplomatic trade.
” said the Grant. Their voice was cautious, information was power in the past and even more power in the future.
As they finished their speech, they turned their head to the door farthest away from where they were sitting, where 6 of the Many arrived. To call them clones was wrong at this point. All of the Many were dressed differently, their hair color ranged between the original black to green. Tattoos covered their arms and one of them had letters in a forgotten language from Earth starting from his right cheek spreading all over his face.
Their movements were not synchronized, their eyes moving from a One to another scanning the room for threats seen or otherwise. While they were still “One” they were far from their brethren in everything they did. Fidgeting, hands on the triggers of their weapons and different movements that seemed “off” in comparison to the One.
The Many approached the Ishtari and the lead Grant, nodded to the Grant and made a small bow to Naysibis.
“ Welcome to the Circle of One. My chosen name is Jakob and there are George, Gilmar, William, Sergei and Jullian.
” said Jakob as soon as he finished his bow. As he mentioned the names of the others, he’d point at each of them in part and they’d respond with a grunt, bow or a simple nod.
The Grant stood up from their seat and nodded back to Jakob.
“ James. We are happy that your people haven’t died yet. Do let us know when you wish to cease with your folly and join us. We miss all of your dearly.
” the words themselves were calm and carefully chosen but the look in Grant’s eyes betrayed their anger and pity over the Many. A sentiment shared by all of the One.
“ Yeah, yeah. My companions and I will tell you this. No. The Many are happy now and if you wish to understand our happiness, you and all the others are welcome to join us.
Now, if the Ishtari captain is ready, please follow my crew. The way back is long and getting caught in the dark is never a good idea.
” said Jakob. His voice mimicking to perfection the lead Grant’s one.
Naysibis watched the two for a second, her head shifting subtly as she looked between each one. Her mouth parted slightly in a silent ‘ah…’ as she appraised them. The Ishtari were, already, ill-disposed to the One as a whole, and the dismissive treatment of those who, at least on first impressions, seemed to be much like the Ishtari themselves did little to improve the Commonality’s viewpoint of them.
And then there was this matter of these One, allegedly, knowing the identity of Tiamat herself. Allegedly contemporaries of her. The exact relationship unknown - but perhaps these Many would be more forthcoming. The Commonality was far more inclined to lend aid to them than to the One.
“Yes, indeed…” she said, lips pursed as she cast a final disapproving glance towards the Grant that had accompanied them. Turning to Jakob, she nodded. “My companions and I are military trained and experienced. We can help during this crossing. Either way, let us be off. I have just learned that we have… much more to discuss than any of us imagined. But it can wait until we’re within your territory.”
Jakob nodded to Naysibis, waved the Grant goodbye and took off. The others followed close by, making jokes and occasionally training-punch each other. At times, some made small talk with the Ishtari that were willing to converse with them.
As soon as they left the starport, the sights changed. The One were walking down the streets with diverse materials, some repairing the buildings
that surrounded them, others in deep conversation between each other. Jokes were flung around that would make a priest blush between the Williams or Jamess on the street.
Jakob and the group kept silent upon approaching any wandering group of One, just in case. A precaution that didn’t seem to matter at all for the One as they didn’t care much, overall, about the Many’s internal business.
As they approached a massive wall that blocked off a gang between what probably were two skyscrapers, Jakob and his group stopped.
“ Alright, everyone knows the drill. Check your corners, stay close by and if you feel the ground shaking beneath your feet…jump away or say your prayers.
Captain. Naysibis, any help you and your companions can provide is more than welcome but please, don’t interfere if not asked or if you are not attacked directly. It was our duty to secure the Gap and we have failed it. Let us deal with any issues that might appear but, in the rare case, we do need help. Please feel free to ask questions.
” Jakob said.
If the One doesn’t want to acknowledge the Many as a real thing because they’re not playing by their rules, fine. They will play by their rules. They will pass any test the One might put them to. Anything that’s needed will be done in the hope that one day, everyone from the One will understand the Many’s point of view.
Naysibis, and the numerous Ishtari following her, nodded in tacit acknowledgement of his words. At a silent signal, they distributed weapons amongst themselves, each woman loading and readying her weapon with practiced ease. The Many were welcome to prove themselves - but the training and culture of the Ishtari did not allow them to do otherwise. They would avoid combat unless directly threatened - but in a hostile environment such as this they would spare no precaution.
Naysibis looked at the man, frowning. “As you say, we won’t interfere - but give us a quick rundown of the threat in this city. I won’t be losing any of my people to a threat we could have neutralized if we’d known about it in advance.” She jogged up beside him, internally remarking at how easy it was to do on this world. The gravity on New Ishtar was much higher than that of earth, and the Ishtari had developed dense muscle mass to compensate, likewise growing to be shorter than they would otherwise have. Here, on this world without the heavy gravity of New Ishtar, she felt light as a feather, and strong as an ox. Walking alongside Jakob now, she turned to him and spoke. “How long?” Before he could reply, she continued. “How long until we’re there? We’ve learned some damn interesting information, and since you lot are - thankfully - individuals, we’d like to know who’s best to discuss it with. It concerns old Earth.”
Jakob’s group watched silently as the Ishtari group readied themselves for danger with military efficiency. If they’re words might’ve been called lies before, this proved for sure that they were indeed soldiers.
“ I’d say there are 3 or 4 things you need to worry about in the Gap. Classified by danger:
1. We’ve got the auto-turrets as the least dangerous. Their weaponry can cut through armor very fast and unless any of you carries grenades, they can’t be disabled. All that sounds dangerous but they’re imobile and we know where they are. As long as we don’t stray from the path and you follow our instructions, they’re not dangerous.
2. Flyers. Think of them like dog sized ticks. They can fly at moderate speeds and they aren’t armed in a traditional sense but they explode when killed. Their armor can be pierced by our spears, so, no problem in that sense but if one gets onto you…then they become problematic. They latch your body and fills it with whatever makes them explode in the first place, making you the bomb. Recommended tactic is to shoot or take them out before they get on you and if they do, kill the “host”. For whatever reason, their explosives won’t work on dead bodies.
3. Nano-swarms. They can strip you of your flesh in a matter of seconds. Worst part? You can barely see them. Think of it like fighting grains of dust. You can’t shoot them, you can’t stab them. Outrun them or blow them up. Those are the two solutions we’ve found in dealing with them.
And 4…if any of you believe in any Gods or so, pray that we don’t meet those. Hogs. They appear from underground and they’re nigh indestructible. We’ve tried shooting them, blowing them up, stabbing…whatever. Their armor is impenetrable by any means we’ve tried until now. As far as we’re aware, we’ve only seen….6 of these robots since we arrived on the planet. Every time we encountered one they killed thousands of the One before it went underground again.
As for your other question, Naysibis, if we encounter no issues…we’ll be at base camp in about 35 minutes. Give or take.
” explained Jakob. His voice alternating from a drill sergeant’s voice to full on fear at the mention of the Hogs then turned again back to normal at the end of the discussion.
A brief nod ensued as the Ishtari silently relayed the information among themselves. Many of them redoubled their efforts on monitoring the surrounding area for threats, walking with their rifles at the ready, watching carefully for any sign of danger.
“Right. Flesh eating swarms you can’t see.” She said, “Well. Just like home then, little more mechanical is all. We have some grenades - but our heavier weapons were left on the ship.” She paused for a second, “We assumed your counterparts wouldn’t much like us walking into their planet in power armor carrying heavy machine guns.”
The trip passed uneventfully. The Ishtari, unused to being in such unfamiliar surroundings, twitched at every possible threat that caught their eye or made a sound. Naysibis didn’t relax her grip until safely within the part of the city the Many had claimed for themselves.
As soon as they stepped inside the Many compound, cheers were heard. Some of the soldiers approached and relieved the group of their weapons, offered them refreshments and quick snacks.
The Many were an odd bunch group. All types of clothes, new tattoos, fresh scars or simply new haircuts could be seen almost everywhere one would look. The architecture of the buildings they lived in was the same as the One's. Even if built by themselves instead of the Immortalis, nothing truly changed from that point of view.
The embassy was the only building that stood out like a sore thumb. The colors were different, the materials used were of different types. It was as if they tried to replicate the Meeting Place's unique architecture in a small scale.
She walked over to the leader of the Many, extending a hand. “Right. Want a do-over on that, now we’re out of the shark tank?”
Jacob took her hand and shook it but then continued to shake his head." Not a shark tank. The One are just misguided. They aren't wrong but they aren't right...Ask anyone here. Some might have a different opinion but that's the general consensus.
Anyways, I am not the leader here. Merel just volunteered to bring your delegation here.
Our leader. He's watching us from up top.
" as he finished the sentence, he pointed upwards to a small figure standing atop a tower. In its golden age, the tower could've been at least 200 meters tall but now, only parts of it stood but enough to provide a perfect vantage point over the district and parts of the outer city.
As Jakob pointed up, the figure waved and made signals with it's spear.
" Captain Naysibis, if you wish to join our leader. Please climb up. Surely someone trained as you are shouldn't have a problem with a small climb. As for your women, they're more than welcome to mingle.
" said Jakob after replying with his own signal to the figure above with just a bit of amusement in his voice. A challenge was cast, a challenge had to be answered and if they are who they resemble they were, they’ll take the challenge.
“In this gravity?” Naysibis asked, feigning insult. She smirked. “Back home the gravity is twice as heavy. A child could climb it here.” Passing off her rifle to another Ishtari, she cracked her knuckles, walking up to the tower in question. With a jaunty wave to the figure at the top of it, she grabbed onto the first of its handholds and hoisted herself up. Compared to training courses on New Ishtar, it felt almost like cheating - like someone was pulling on a rope from the top of the tower to help her along. She made far better progress than she expected she would have - though at times she nearly fell as her weight caused handholds to shift or break loose. She jumped from handhold to handhold, monkeying her way up the tower with a speed that surprised her. The cheers of a few of the Ishtari who had stayed to watch wafted up to her, accompanied by a few lurid comments from certain members of the group.
At last, however, she reached the top, pulling herself up beside the figure who’d gestured to her before.
The Old One watched in silence as Naysibis climbed the tower with ease, even if she made a few blunders. The military training was obvious. Conditional training. You name it, these people had it.
Finally Naysibis reached the top and the Old One turned to her, eyes scanning her body for anything that might potentially be used as a weapon.
The Old One looked, well, old. At least 15 years older than the rest of the clones, signs of age were obvious on his face but the look in his eyes betrayed something else. Wisdom. The type that comes with age. His clothes, in comparison to the Many or the One, were as well different. Leather pants and some very old boots were all he wore. His bare chest revealed a great number of scars, more than any of the other clones covered his whole body. Only to be more defined by his muscles and pecs.
He put his spear on the ground, next to him, and gestured to Naysibis to look towards the horizon.
“ Take a look and let me know what you see. Do you see any signs that someone lived here for the past 300 years? Anything that might slightly incline that we’re not living in a tomb?
” his voice was rough, like he wasn’t used to talking at length and if one would be inquisitive enough, might notice that the voice was not the same as the one from the broadcast…even if very similar.
“The city?” Naysibis asked, frowning, and turning to follow his hand. “Beyond your compound, beyond where we landed? No.” She looked out to the city, focusing on individual points of interest. “I see decay. It’s a ruin. I don’t know how many skeletons are out there - human or otherwise - but I shudder to think what the number could be.” She looked some more, her eyes passing over crumbling ruins, collapsed skyscrapers, piles of rubble and detritus. “I see smoke from fighting. Whether its your people or the One, I can’t tell.” She fell silent, listening to the distant sounds carried by the constant winds. “I can hear combat for sure. Gunfire.” She turned to him, “Yet you’re carrying a spear, and wearing leather. You don’t look like the others. I don’t mean… age. You… something about you. You carry yourself differently.”
“ You are correct. There isn’t anything here. Skeletons? I can tell you for sure. Over 10 billion. Mine or the One? That’s bullshit. One…Many…in the end it doesn’t matter what you are. You die the exact same. The One proved it over 10 billion times. There is no difference between them. The ones below chose me as their leader because I was the first they had knowledge of that rejected the One.
They call me the Old One. My age is irrelevant. I no longer look like I did a long time ago and I no longer think as I once did.
Spear, leather. That’s how I learned how to hunt. That’s how I was taught by the Circle to survive. Back home, I thought I could survive anywhere in the world. Who knew it wasn’t only about that world? Sure, the rules of engagement are different when you can’t kill anything but one adapts.
You’re saying I carry myself differently than the others? What makes you say that, Althea-lookalike? The fact that I stopped caring about whatever happens with the ones below a long time ago? Or maybe it is the fact that I’m just bored. I have seen every part of this planet that is livable to man.
” the Old One talked and talked, never stopping for breath and almost never taking his eyes off the horizon. The one time he did look to Naysibis in all his speech was when he called her a lookalike, the look in his eyes betrayed the rage boiling underneath.
Naysibis looked at him curiously. Though her eyes were hidden, her lips were pursed tightly and she watched him in silence for several moments, weighing her words before she spoke. “So that was her name, then?” She said, watching him carefully. “Althea… heh, not what I would have expected.”
The Commonality exploded into a furor within her mind now. Historians screamed at her to ask everything she could about their progenitor. Artists begged to know what she looked like on earth. Others wanted to know who this man was - why he spoke so strangely compared to all those who shared his face. Naysibis remembered the uproar when they had made contact with the Zetans. While this did not exceed it - it was certainly greater than anything she could remember before their arrival.
“Forgive me.” she murmured, after a moment. Her words came confused, uncertain. “I don’t know much about you or the One. Heaven, this isn’t what I’d imagined when I touched down on this rock.” She suppressed a shudder at the rage she saw in his eyes. “You remind me of some of our own elders. The same tiredness. Just how old are you?”
After a moment, she added. “And… so… you knew our progenitor, then?”
The Old One just looked at Naysibis, her color draining from her face for a second when he mentioned Althea.
“ I see you didn’t know who’s face you’re using. Albeit a bit different than the original. Take your time…
I can imagine you didn’t expect this. How old am I? Does it even matter? Let’s just say I’ve plbeen here for a while and I can tell you for sure. This tiredness that comes with age? All it means is that we’ve seen the worst in humankind and not only…
Progenitor? That’s what you call her? Her name is or was…depending on how you see yourself…Althea Reyes. She was a very close friend of mine. There’s a reason why the ones below allowed you to meet me and why they asked you to climb this tower. They knew who you are. I’m assuming that the One wished to barter for the information?
“I- yes. We’re clones. Of her. She cloned herself. She needed soldiers to figh- no I mean, the population dropped and there was almost nobody left an-” Naysibis pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, screwing her eyes shut as she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She’d been ready for nearly anything on this planet. Combat. Warfare. Danger of any kind. New and exciting discoveries.
But this? This was far beyond her.Ask him his name
Naysibis barely noticed the voice at first amidst the tumult of the Commonality’s outcry. Billions of voices called to her, demanding myriad things she had no way to grant. Ask him his name
. The voice was louder, more insistent now. And after a moment, Naysibis realized its signature in the Commonality was no less than one of the Sages assigned to the Meeting Place - Sachiko. Frequently tuned into the Commonality, she had seized upon the furor, and taken charge in a way unlike what many knew of her.
“Y-yes.” She said, after some silence. “Yes, they wanted to barter for the information. Our ship. Our Ark. It met… horrible catastrophe. I- I’m not the best person to tell you about it. Our Sages, they know it better than I. Many of them know it by heart.” She struggled to remain calm now. “We lost so much. We forgot so much. We’ve tried to find her name for centuries. And here I am, sitting next to someone who knows about her on Earth itself.” She looked up at him again, following the instructions of the Sage. “What’s your name? Are you… actually… from Earth?”
The Old One just watched the agony Naysibis was in. Clearly it wasn’t what she expected when she came to meet the Many. Almost as if she had a panic attack. These clones weren’t like the real Althea…not like her but like her at the same time.
“ They’re still doing what I’d do. They haven’t changed a bit. They’re so stuck in their ways…never changing. Never evolving into someone new….
Your ark met horrible catastrophe? Tell me about it…tell me how she died and where she is buried. If that’s a tradition your people still have. I’d like to pay my respects.
My name? James William Grant but that might be the answer of any of the ones below. Yes, I am from Earth. Same as any of those below.
” he then took a deep breath and let out a laugh. A deep laugh from within.
He turned and looked at Naysibis again, a hand on her shoulder.
“ Just ask me what you want, Xerox.
” his voice was now stronger. Hard as steel.
Naysibis’ reaction was initially one of confusion at the term. Much of the Commonality, likewise, had no idea what the word meant. A few Sages, primarily, did recognize it. Understanding snaked its way back to Naysibis after a few seconds, and she visibly winced after its meaning had sunk in.
“We… didn’t want it.” She murmured, almost to herself, then, more forcefully. “She… we, didn’t do it because we wanted to. We did it to survive. You landed on this desolate shithole of a planet. You gonna tell me your story was any different? We were trapped somewhere. No, no, we were trapped Nowhere. Maybe it was… hell, maybe it was
Hell as you thought of it on earth. We call it the Void.” She looked at him. “When our ark crossed through the Gateway, it didn’t emerge immediately in its target system. Instead, it was trapped in that bubble of non-existence for something like five hundred and seventy years, by our count. The ship was designed as a generation ship for some reason - and good thing too. Without those resources we wouldn’t have survived. We assumed the same thing had happened to everyone else. That we were all that was left of humanity. So, naturally, we did whatever
it took to survive. We fought horrific things there. The archives are shattered from corruption and age. We forgot so much.”
She was silent for a moment, before continuing. “As far as we’ve been able to piece together - we think
Tiam- Althea, was killed in action about two centuries in. We, her descendents, eventually pacified the ship. There are other clones, but we make up the vast majority. Something about her DNA being uniquely stable during all of the mutations we suffered.” Naysibis gestured to the bonelike growths covering her face, and to her body as a whole.
“The reason we came here - unofficially, the Commonality is… unnerved by the One - was because we heard your broadcast, and the plight of a people of clones trying to distinguish themselves as individuals stirred something in us. We do not call ourselves One. We may share her face and her body - but in truth we are her descendents, not her copies.”
“There is a memorial to her on New Ishtar, but the world is hazardous for those unlike us. Of the first hundred to set foot on it after we were expelled from the Void, three returned alive - and one of those on the brink of death. The atmosphere is toxic. Parasites fill the air. The planet is a death world if you’ve not adapted to it. You’re welcome to visit - but it’d be in a hazard suit, or you’d die. Or…” Naysibis paused, thinking. “You can hold on to her memory. Maybe she is dead. Some of us think she’s not - that she’s still, somehow, alive. But… what matters most is that she accomplished something I don’t think many people could have ever dreamed of. She helped pave the way to create… she helped create a damn near utopia. It’s thanks to her that the ship’s crew survived one way or another. Maybe she’s dead. Maybe not. I don’t rightly fuckin’ know. Maybe we never will.”
She fell silent, looking down at her hands with a newfound appreciation. Softly, she chuckled to herself as she waited for a reply from the Old On- from James William Grant. “Heh. Althea Reyes. Yayota you mythic bitch, you won the bet. Fuck.”
James listened closely to Naysibis as he did before, clearly enjoying the effect of his revelations to her and probably others who might’ve heard the conversation.
“ Boo. Hoo. You did not want to be clones? Guess what? I didn’t either. The Many didn’t either. No one wants to be clone. Not truly. If you’re still a bit of Althea, you’ll know what I mean. You can always change what you are. If you want to share sob stories, go and speak with the One. They enjoy retelling the stories of times long past.
And if you come to me with these sob stories and expect me to be sad for you? Then better throw yourself off the tower now before I do it, Xerox.
” his voice went up, his anger being briefly released.
Only for it to be subdued almost instantly when he heard about Althea’s death. True death.
“She’s dead? Really? C’mon. Althea’s smarter than that. She couldn’t have created a whole race of clones from scratch and then allowed herself to be killed by space-demons.
If there’s someone who’s going to kill her is me for not getting me a place of her ark in time. She’d always get so stuck in her work. Always focusing, always getting distracted and then what happens? She goes on a different continent and leaves without me?
” sadness crept in his voice only to again be replaced by his steely-voice.
“ If you wish to help the Many, go ahead and help them. They’ll believe you if you say that I agreed with it. If they want to go off world, take them away as well. You can do whatever you please with them. More will appear…they always do. They all want to be different, thinking that’s the way forward. The way to be different from the original as they’re all individuals…
As for the One? Their new implants make them think they’re better than most and they are…in some ways, I’ll give them that but someday they’ll realize their individuality, their unity or whatever they want to call it, it's just bullshit. All trying to copy the original, thinking they are the same.
I look at them both and you know what I see? Same thing I see in you. Xerox copies. Trying to be different from the original while not being different at all. The copy of a copy of a copy…the infinite cycle of cloning.
There was no reply for a time. Naysibis watched him silently, her expression totally blank as she processed the shock of the meeting.
Then, without a sound, she slapped him across the face.
“Fuck you, shit for brains.” She snarled. “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. If you want so badly
to be so different? Jump off the fucking tower. Or order your bunch of clones to do the same. Hell, drag me with you. Put something more than words into it if you hate it so much.” She shook her head. “Heaven above. I had higher hopes for this. Say the word, fuckface. Say it and I’ll leave. I’ll let you stay here and pity-wank yourself dry until this planet drops into its star thinking about a woman who’s been dead for centuries.”
James saw the hit coming and just waited for it. Waited for true rage to wash over Naysibis for all the niceness of diplomacy to go over and...to confirm if there's was anything left of Althea inside her clones.
He watched her for about a minute then laughed and slowly clapped.
"That's better. Finally. No more bullshit. No more niceness for the sake of diplomacy. I was wondering how long it would take until you'd lose it. Not long by the looks of it.
You're strong I'll give you that but you're favoring your right side too much. Saw the hit coming from a mile away. Try to mask it. Look somewhere else than where you want to hit, change your body position accordingly. You would've been dead in a real fight and you know it. Not because of the fighting skill but because you let your anger out.
Anyways...a slap? Althea would've punched, then probably try to throw me from the tower. If all of your race are like you, then, you're not like Althea. Still copying her face, tho'. Pretty sure she devised a way against that. That woman always had failsafes to her failsafes.
“So what?” Naysibis said, frowning at him. “The fuck do you want? You want her back? Sorry, pal. My magic genie just ran out of wishes. Maybe she’s alive, somewhere. I don’t know. None of us do.” She sighed, looking away from him in disgust. “I was hoping I’d get to learn more about her when I came here, after what I learned from the One. I was hoping I’d get to hear stories about her life on earth. To know more about the woman whose face we’ve all got. And what do I find?” She looked back at the Old One. “An old man living in the past. Little better than those ECU fucks. He can’t let go of what’s gone. He was hoping for some ghost to rise up and give him what he can’t have.”
Naysibis stood, shaking her head. “If this is all you have to offer, I’ll let you stay here until you rot. From what you describe of her? I think she’d be disgusted with what you’ve become. Shit, maybe you’d deserve getting thrown off this tower.” She looked him up and down. “We came here to try and start a friendship with what we thought were kindred spirits. Give me one good reason not to leave you and them here to rot to nothing but dust.”
" Calm down before I make you calm down. I wanted to prove a point and I did. Feelings are non consequential now.
All the ones you'll meet down there will act like me when things go to shit. Althea’s clones, the Ishtari, you, don't. You're not the same as the original which means that maybe, maybe, you'll be able to teach those below to be different as well.
The implants they use make them the same as the original in thinking and memories and while the total recall it provides can be useful, the other parts not so much.
You want stories about Althea? In my first few years on this planet I wrote a diary. Stories about my life, hers and Earth. Everything I remembered of it….Long before I found the cloning machine. I can give you that...I can recite it by heart. You'll find a lot of information about her there. Just keep in mind, those were the memories of a man who thought he would die.
Naysibis sat back down beside him, watching him silently for a time. After a moment, her composure broke, and she shook her head laughing. “Tch, what a piece of shit you are, James William Grant. I can only hope you weren’t like this back on earth, or I’d be disappointed in her.” She nodded back in the direction they had come from. “You think you can get my people further passage here? We’ve got heavy weapons and tools on board - only really usable by us unfortunately - that we could use to help you clear space… if not a spaceport, a secure landing area. The Commonality would like to help your Many, if we can. We aren’t sure if we’ll be able to, but we’ll give it a try.”
“ Finally. You loosened up a bit. Old age does wonders to a man. If your people somehow managed to extend human life, then…you’ll see how it is after a few hundred years.
If I think I can do that? It’s already done. The fact that you’re standing here and I haven’t thrown you off the tower for hitting me...is proof enough. The Many will accept any assistance they will get, you’ve got my blessing but…and this is an important but no help has to be provided that will make them clash with the One. They’ve got to sort out their differences on their own. Think of them like children, if the adults intervene…will they ever learn?
James took a breath, took his spear and jumped off the tower. He turned midway towards the tower and flashed a grin to Naysibis then just ~10 meters above the ground he pressed a small button on the side of the spear and the head of the spear flew away hitting the tower. A very thin piece of string, similar to metal, extended from the head of the spear to the lower metal part of it. He vaulted a bit in the air and touched the ground a few seconds later.
Pointing towards Naysibis, James waved his spear and shouted :
“ There’s no such thing as unusable technology. Anything can be adapted! Come down! Let’s get this show on the road!
“Eh, ‘bout a hundred and forty three if you wanna use earth years as a measurement.” She shot back at him, “Ol’ Scheherazade’s over 350, memory serves. She got into rum and collecting swords. I for one pray I end up at least a bit less… froofy than her.”
A signal went out to the Ishtari on board the ship within One territory, and preparations began immediately for the offloading of equipment and power armor. Though not intended for such a task, the ship’s crew had brought a complement of machinery and tools with them in case they needed to make repairs, or any other potential needs. All they would need would be permission from the One, and from the Many, and the Ishtari would bring in their equipment to clear a small part of the city and erect a primitive spaceport within.
Naysibis watched the Old One as he revealed the secret in his spear, smiling and shaking her head. After a moment, she muttered to herself. “Y’know what, not what I was expecting at all.”