The Chosen Ishtari
Previously on The Seraph
Shortly after the Yulzan and FRA admirals left the ship, Ashevelen was in her quarters with Julian.
"What do you think, Julian? Should we keep an eye on them? The Yulzan seemed conflicted when he heard about my divinity. Might create issues in the future if more like him appear. "
Julian just stood there, watching silently. He was the first one to get subjected to the Brute serum and lost his vocal cords in the process. While a way to fix them was available, he refused the treatment stating that he was blessed by the Goddess and doesn't wish for her gifts to be removed. Even if it meant that he'd have to be mute for the rest of his life. Occasionally he would grunt as yes or not but other than that, he was silent.
“And what about William? Has he returned or contacted us back?” Ashe said, quickly changing the subject.
“Templar!” said Ashe in a strong voice.
Almost immediately two Templars that were standing at the door came in and quickly kneed.
“Send a message to Catherine to take a battlecruiser and go through the Gateway. Tell her to be careful. I shan’t lose two of my Hierarchs in a day”...
“Hello survivors of humanity. We are the Chosen. We wish you no harm. Our ship’s weapons are not armed, feel free to send a diplomat or whatever your people use for diplomatic missions. We seek to trade.”
Chaos reigned among the four and a half billion minds that formed the Commonality of New Ishtar. The Ishtari had feared to enter the Gateway after its activation, lingering close by it hesitantly, a veritable armada amassing within its periphery as research and military vessels clustered around it.
Those simple words, and the emergence of a large, heavily armed warship through the Gateway, caused a furor the likes of which had never been felt within the Commonality for decades - perhaps centuries, when the discovery of the survival of the Hive Strain had seemed to herald its doom anew.
The response to the Chosen was a delayed one, despite the armada of research and military vessels surrounding the newly emerged ship. It was only, after some time, that a voice each and every Ishtari knew by heart cut through the maelstrom. The furor subsided as waves easing away from a flood, and the presence of Star-Mother Tiamat made itself known. It was a rare occasion for her presence to be felt, such was her hesitance to use her enormous sway within Ishtari society. A hushed awe rose among the tumult.
It was then that she spoke to the Chosen, “I am Tatiana Iwasaki, also known as Star-Mother 17-430 Tiamat Guides Her Children Into The Future. Citizen of the Commonality of New Ishtar. I… you are human, yes? You mean to say we are not alone after all?” After a moment, she reiterated her statement in the other three languages the message had been dispatched in. Then she waited, and the Commonality waited with her.
What could be called an armada stood in front of the battleship, dubbed Light, alarmed Catherine and the crew. If a fight would break out, they wouldn’t have time to make it out before being destroyed. As such, the message was sent while preparations were made to send a small Infiltrator-Class ship through the Gateway asking for assistance from Ashevelen.
An open hand with a smile on the face while the other one reaching for the dagger that would get you in the back. Such were the ways of Catherine. Upon hearing the name of the leader of this Star-Mother, Catherine and the other crew was silent. Scripture told of someone with the same name. A coincidence surely. Settling on using English to communicate, Catherine sent a message back.
“My name is Catherine Puts Heathens to Sleep. We are not human, no. The Goddess has seen fit for us to elevate us beyond humanity. To answer your other question, no, you are not alone.
Come aboard and convince yourself.”
Another moment’s delay ensued between the two as the Ishtari commonality erupted into a furor at these words. These few words carried with them as much weight as the first message transmitted.
Tiamat collected herself. “I am not present upon the vessels currently surrounding you.” She answered back in English, the words accented and awkward from a lack of practice, drudged up from centuries ago and countless rejuvenations. “A volunteer will enter in my stead and I shall speak through her.”
A clamour arose in the minds of those assembled aboard the vessels present as millions competed for the prestige of the role. At last three candidates were selected. The Azazel Strain Sister-Scientist 3-47 Asirin Seeks The Truth She Knows To Be, the Tiamat Strain Sister-Sage 8-192 Scheherazade Dreams Of Many Great Things, and the Azazel Strain Sister-Artist 1-43 Sachiko Treasures The Beauty In The Universe. The three were each equipped with suicide pills and transponders in case of ambush, but the decision was made not to send armed guards - scores of Ishtari ships surrounded this “Chosen” vessel, there was no need to threaten them with armed personnel aboard their ships too.
And so a small craft detached from the main body of the fleet and trundled towards the Chosen vessel, its three primary occupants waiting with bated breath.
The Chosen prepared for the arrival of the diplomats with a sense of fear and resolve that the Goddess will bless them with her might if these Isharian prove dangerous. The Light was in full motion with Priests, the lowest of the servants of the Church of Ashevelen, hiding various weapons and traps in the corridors that the Isharians would walk. If they are to be dangerous, they will be eliminated even if it meant for them to die as well.
Templars in full armour would escort the diplomats to a conference room deep within the battleship. As they would walk, prayers would be told to the great Ashevelen, different paintings and a constant huuumm could be seen and heard.
As the diplomats would enter the conference room, they’d find it empty. Only one door through which they came in could be seen and a subtle flicker of bended light towards the end of the room. After a few moments of waiting, Catherine appeared in front of them, almost invisible until that moment.
She watched the diplomats and chuckled slightly. Either she met her first aliens or someone else played with human genetics.
“I am High Hierarch Catherine serving at the will of the Goddess. I say to you, welcome survivors of humanity. If you are human that is, if not, care to tell me if any survived?”
The Ishtari delegates reacted with a mixture of curiosity, surprise, and intense curiosity towards the sight of the Chosen as they greeted them - only heightened as Catherine seemed to appear out of thin air before their eyes. Each of them felt the weighty presence of Star-Mother Tiamat as she observed the proceedings through their eyes, and listened with their ears.
Scheherazade spoke first. “I am Sister-Sage 8-192 Scheherazade Dreams Of Many Great Things, and…” despite herself, despite the enormous pressure weighing down upon her shoulders at this moment, a small smile forced its way through, “And that’s a subject of some debate among our own number.” After a moment, she added, “The Star-Mother Tiamat is watching proceedings at present. If she feels the need to interject, I will speak for her.”
Asirin spoke next. “We are human descended, at the bare minimum. As Scheherazade has said we are uncertain of if we count as human ourselves. You say a goddess has elevated you above humanity?” After a moment, she added, “I suppose this is where this near-invisibility of yours comes from, as well?”
“I’ll take that as a yes to my question. You are humans but not really. Look around you and you’ll see the signs of the Goddess in each of us. Look within yourselves and the Goddess will show herself to you.
Yes, we were humans once, after Earthfall. The planet we found ourselves upon was uninhabitable by humans and as our people died, the Goddess took mercy on us. She granted us a part of her divine strength, a part of her very being and for that…we are forever grateful.” Catherine’s face was hidden in the darkness of her hood but as she spoke about Ashevelen’s gifts, anyone with a keen eye could see hers burning with devotion.
With a click of her fingers, a few priests entered the room carrying bottles of diverse liquids and food. Meat of animals from RADX-001 which would prove impossible to eat for normal humans, bread made of modified wheat and other types of food were brought and put on the table.
“Feel free to eat whatever you think you can handle. Fair warning, everything here is safe for us to eat.”
Sachiko remained silent for now, watching carefully as her golden irises flitted between each speaker. Asirin smiled. “I assure you I have the fullest confidence that we can enjoy your fare just as much as you, High Hierarch.”
Sachiko and Scheherazade did not partake at first, until Asirin sampled a piece of meat, chewing with relish. “Excellent flavors. My compliments to whoever prepared it.” She said, smiling. A few moments passed as she closed her eyes, seeming to concentrate on something, before she nodded to Scheherazade and Sachiko. “It’s safe indeed. Enjoy.”
“Apologies for our own lack of hospitality.” Scheherazade said to Catherine, “We were, in all honesty, not expecting anyone to come through the Gateway. Your arrival was most unexpected.”
Catherine watched with interest as Asirin ate. The food was brought as a test to confirm if these Ishtari can survive living on RADX-001 one day, if it is required as
The others that came before wouldn't.
"No need to thank me. The Goddess instructed me to be hospitable to the survivors of humanity and that's what I'm doing. If she'd ordered your deaths, it would've been the same thing. " Catherine let the semi-threat hang in the air for a second and then continued "We were as surprised as you were that the Gateways activated once more. Our scientists have tried making them work previously but nothing seemed to affect them.
Returning to our previous conversation, I will ask you to respect the Goddess when you utter the word. There is no greater sin than not showing respect to her.
You may address me by my name. My position in the Church of Ashevelen is of no importance for now. "
An electric shock ran through each of the three Ishtari present. The mind of Tiamat started at the name. No reply came for a moment as she formulated her response, before, slowly, Scheherazade spoke. “Th- the Star-Mother wishes you to repeat the name you just said.” She murmured, then spoke more clearly. “I, um. Speaking as Tiamat: ‘Ashevelen? Your goddess’ name is Ashevelen?’”
Catherine watched their faces as their confusion was obvious but for unknown reasons.
"Indeed. The Goddess, praise be her name, is Ashevelen. I see that her light has reached your corner of space as well. "
A goddess named Ashevelen. Presiding over a people whose DNA had been enhanced and altered much as that of the Ishtari. A message transmitted in, of all things, Romanian. The coincidence was too much. Scheherazade spoke again. “As Tiamat: ‘Tell me more of Ashevelen. Did she… have a sister?”
"The knowledge of the holy Scripture is not for…unbelievers to know. But, I'll allow one answer about the Goddess. Yes, Scripture taught us about her family on Earth. She had a sister with the same name as yours. I will say no more than this."
It was time for the confirmation to come. Coincidence or a true miracle of the Goddess.
Tiamat reeled. Within the commonality, silence fell, true and total silence. Scheherazade spoke in sync with Tiamat, her eyes wide as the heavy presence of the Star-Mother weighed upon her. “Ashe…”
She looked up. “Doctor Ashevelen Chiritescu? Born in Romania? Sister of Tatiana Iwasaki, born in Russia? Adopted by Tatiana Iwasaki’s family and raised together? Geneticist like her sister? Employee of Iwasaki Group? Passenger aboard the Ark Valiant?”
Scheherazade stumbled back, and was caught by the two Ishtari flanking her. She stared ahead as Tiamat stared through her eyes, in shock at the raw, undiluted emotion she felt coming off the mind weighing upon her own. Tiamat had never spoken of her life on earth at length - it was somewhat common knowledge that she had a sister upon earth, but Tiamat herself was tight lipped about her old life. Now, here and now, in a twist of fate, a defiance of the odds unlike any other, could it be…?
“She… my sister… survived?” Tiamat croaked, and Scheherazade’s lips moved to speak for her.
Catherine was probably as shocked as the Ishari diplomats. They knew her name, her country of origin, everything that the Scripture taught them about Ashevelen’s life. Every single word. It meant only one thing in Catherine’s mind.
“Who told you all this? Have any other of the Chosen heathens arrived in your system? Told you to LIE?” her voice was no longer calm but a full on shout, her body starting to flicker between being seen and not.
Templars quickly walked into the room, guns held down towards the heads of the diplomats. An alarm rang somewhere on the ship and the ship’s weapons were getting primed. They would kill all of these blasphemers even if it’s the last thing they’ll ever do.
Catherine turned to her Templars and said, in a voice full of zeal “Send a message home. Tell them we’ve found blasphemers and they need to be taught a lesson. Send everything you’ve heard in this room. The might of the Golden Armada will be felt today.”
“I-” Scheherazade stuttered before falling silent, staring in mute shock and dismay. “None have arrived! None! We assumed the rest of humanity to be dead!” She looked to Sachiko and to Asirin, frantic and panicked. “I do not know any of this! It was the words of Tiamat - not my ow-” she cut herself off, not wanting to worsen the situation. “I - she-” Another moment passed before her voice hardened, “Kill us then, if you would, zealot. Death means nothing to me. I will return. We will bring no war to your home, for Tiamat would not strike down her own family. But throw yourselves upon the knife if you wish. I have spoken no lie.”
At the other end of the system, Tiamat readied herself for whatever was to come. The formidable fleet of the Commonality scrambled to assume defensive positions. This was not what they had planned for. This was all wrong.
As the exchange between them went on, ships started to appear through the Gateway. The Golden Armada waiting for a sign on the other side of it.
One by one, Carriers and Battleships poured into Ishtari airspace and at the end, the massive flagship of the Goddess. The Seraph. Looking as if it was a light in the darkness of space.
A video message soon came through for the Seraph sent to all the ships in the near vicinity.
Ashevelen stood surrounded by her most zealous servants and a lumbering Julian behind her. Dressed for once, for war instead of her usual grabs. Full golden armour that covered every inch of her body.
“Whoever listens to this. Know that the Goddess of the Chosen has arrived. Know that your lives are forfeit if you have chosen to be hostile to my people. Know that it is your time to meet your Goddess and beg for forgiveness and mercy.”
And then, another message was sent, this one only to the closest Ishtari vessel.
“What your diplomats said to my people…is it true? Tatiana, are you still alive?”
Tiamat almost missed the message as she scrambled amidst the chaos consuming the planet as it prepared for an emergency defence. Tiamat sat, stunned, for a moment, as she processed the words. She reacted swiftly once the initial shock had worn off, replying as quickly as she possibly could.
“Doctor Tatiana Iwasaki. Born in Moscow, Russia, to Yukiko Iwasaki and Aleksandr Antonovich Kuznetsov. Adopted sister of Doctor Ashevelen Chiritescu. Boarded the Ark Ishtar headed by the board members of the Iwasaki Group.” A second message followed immediately after. “I’m alive, Ashe, is that really you? Order your people to stand down, for all of our sakes, before this becomes a shooting war. I’ll order mine to do the same.”
As the message reached Ashevelen, the Ishtari warships that had been powering up their weapons systems paused, though power continued to be routed to defensive systems, the weapons preparations ceased as their crews waited with bated breath.
Ashevelen listened to the words of Tatiana, mouth almost agape. Her own sister to survive this whole…ordeal? Then again, if someone was to survive Earthfall, it would’ve been them two. No matter where they’d end up.
“All ships. Power down your weapon systems. We don’t need to start a war.” a short message sent to all the Chosen ships, followed by another one to the room where Catherine and the diplomats were.
“I apologise for my servant’s behaviour. Catherine, we will speak about this later. For now, go back home and read the Scripture again. Learn for it once more as it seems you’ve forgotten everything”.
Catherine just nodded, sadly and disappeared from view.
“Tatiana. You know a lot of information about my family but I don’t trust anyone who randomly throws words like that. If it is permitted, I would like to see you face to face on your planet. My people won’t try anything if I am there. But, if I find out that you are lying…I will exterminate your people ‘till no one remains alive.”
“Likewise, Ashe, if I find someone’s been using your name to prop up some mad crusader faith long after you’re dead, the heavens themselves will tremble under the wrath I will sow and I will personally fashion a drinking goblet from the impostor’s skull. Just… be warned. I’ve changed, as I expect you have.”
“Agreed. I will bring my personal bodyguard with me. Do you agree to meet me with only one other person? To keep things fair for both parties.”
“I need no bodyguard. If you are who you claim to be, I have nothing to fear and everything to celebrate. If you are an impostor, I will rip the two of you apart with my bare hands and mourn my sister once more. I’ll see you planetside, Ashe.”
Neriven. Capital and largest city of the Commonality of New Ishtar. The beating heart of its bureaucracy, administration, military, economy, culture, and home of the largest synapse node on the planet. A sprawling, pristine megalopolis of 983 million Ishtari, comprising over a fifth of the total population of the entire Commonality. Almost a billion souls inhabiting an endless series of pristine alabaster spires that soared into the sky in spite of the planet’s gravity, and densely packed, elegant housing blocks that rose up from carefully tended groves of bioluminescent trees. An intricate crisscrossing array of maglev trains and monorail lines covered the city, ferrying millions to and from their homes and places of work or play in an elegant dance. The city stretched on to the horizon as the shuttle carrying Ashevelen lowered itself down before one of the largest buildings in the city, a grand central meeting hall and the place Tiamat had chosen as their meeting ground. It would not do to meet her sister in her private quarters. Only the best would do.
From where the shuttle was to land, a hastily erected sealed tube had been constructed around which a massive throng of diverse Ishtari strains swelled, and signs of work to decontaminate the building were evident. The smell of antiseptics and cleaning supplies stung the nostrils as the airlock finally parted, and two Azazel Strain clad in the graceful Ishtari power armour stepped forth, holding ceremonial halberds. “Forgive the smell, sister of Tiamat.” One said, her voice difficult to hear as she spoke barely above a whisper. “The atmosphere of the planet is fatal to outsiders, we have had to purge it and prepare a sterile environment. No precaution has been spared. Please, follow us.”
They lead her through to the central building, the translucent tubing difficult to make detail through. It was evident though that those closest to it were attempting to catch a glimpse of the first non-Ishtari to ever step foot on the planet. The Ishtari guards lead her and her guard briskly, maintaining total silence, though their body language betrayed the nervousness that filled every centimetre of their bodies. At the end of the tubing lay a set of ornate wooden doors inlaid with delicate gold and platinum designs. It was easy to tell, even through the tubing, that the building was nothing short of an architectural masterpiece. The guards opened the doors, inclining their heads to her in a poorly practised bow, before closing it behind her and her guard.
Within the room sat Tiamat clad in an ornate, masterfully crafted outfit of a black bodysuit edged with gold, from which golden chain dangled and a nanoweave golden cape trailed from her shoulders and onto the floor. She had changed herself, similar to the Azazel Strain which she had created, her piercing eyes no longer brown. Instead, piercing golden irises framed by black sclera looked her sister up and down before, slowly, a ghost of a smile appeared as she spoke in Romanian - with the very same accent as she had on earth, “Seems you’re finally taller than I am.”
None questioned Ashevelen’s decision to meet the unbelievers openly, on their planet. None but Julian who let out pheromones of caution but nothing could dissuade Ashe from seeing if this person was indeed her lost sister or an imposter. Orders were given to bring the whole Golden Armada upon the Ishtari if she wouldn’t get in touch with them every half an hour. No half-measures would be taken. Every single weapon of mass destruction the Chosen had would be brought over.
As the ship descended on the planet, Ashe looked with interest at the city. Very similar to their own but without the churches that dominated the landscape. No burning candles, nothing that would scream “Religion”. It was a city as she imagined it before the whole Goddess spiel began.
The gravity soon started to push on them but Ashe just shrugged it off, Julian didn’t. His every move was slower than it should be, his breath shallow as the gravity pressed on his lungs.
“Are you ok there Julian? Do you wish to return? I haven’t taken into account the high gravity of this world?” Her voice was calm and friendly.
Just a grunt was his answer. Most wouldn’t understand it but Ashe knew exactly what he meant. He will never abandon his duty.
Finally they arrived into what seemed to be a massive building, similar to a mayor’s office in Ashe’s opinion at least. The heavy air of antiseptics and cleaning supplies was obvious and stung their nostrils. With a wave of her hand, Julian released pleasantly smelling pheromones in the air, similar to a rose’s smell that could be felt by anyone in the near vicinity.
As they were led into the room, Ashe looked at Tatiana and…stopped. Her words barely made any sense to Ashe for a few moments and then laughed. A full, deep laugh. After a moment, she replied back to Tatiana in Romanian.
“And you still manage to mangle my language. “ Switching swiftly between all the languages that they both knew, she continued “So, you are still alive. After 300 years.”
At once, Tiamat’s suave demeanour cracked. She stared at her sister for what seemed like hours, time passed by as if in an endless stream. A single tear crept down her cheek, and she stood wordlessly, walking over to Ashevelen with a smile on her face. “It really is you after all. Of all the coincidences and…” she too laughed, interspersed with sobs of sheer emotional overload. She leaned back against the table for support, wiping tears from her eyes. “It really is you. I… - wait, what do you mean, only 300?” she frowned, peering inquisitively at her, “Certainly in realspace but… I’m sorry. I… I didn’t think you would be… how did your Ark survive? How did you survive? We thought the rest would have perished when the Gateway collapse trapped us.”
“300 years passed, yes. What do you mean only? My Ark didn’t technically survive, most perished in the few months we spent on the planet. Took me almost a year to fix the issues. Remember that special project to augment humans that we worked on back home, the one I was leading? Guess what? I finished and improved it tenfold. It only needed for humanity to almost be extinct to finish the research.
I fixed the “growing old” bit as well. This body is over 200 years old. My original one, unfortunately died of prolonged exposure to the toxins of our planet. Last one to do so. “
“The… the gateway collapse. The Void, as we call it.” Tiamat frowned, eyebrow raising involuntarily as she listened in growing bewilderment. “You did not… you were not trapped within it? We suffered for nearly six hundred years within its grasp only to emerge to find not a second had passed in real space. Horrors. Nightmares beyond all sense and decency. Apocalyptic monstrosities unleashed upon humanity the likes of which I hope never to see again. So many millions dead. Six centuries. Six centuries of war and death and… you didn’t… at all?”
At the mention of her body’s age she forced a smile, “Glad to see we at least both found a solution to that little problem, at least.”
Ashe looked at Tatiana as she told her story, shock slowly creeping on her face.
At the mention of the monstrosities, the shock on Ashevelen’s face turned into curiosity.
"I am sorry you went through all that but no, our Gateway functioned as it should if you wanna call it like that. They were meant to save the human race but it spit us out on a planet where humans couldn't live. Toxic atmosphere, poisonous animals…hell even the sun's light would burn through our environmental suits in less than an hour.
The idiotic colonial government tried to control our rations and freedom but they slowly lost it as well. My first serum was made shortly after. Full of mistakes as it was, it gave us a chance to live on the planet. They tried to stop me. To give themselves the serum and leave everyone else to their fate.
I…had them all killed. Tortured until their minds broke and then experimented on them. They died better than they deserved. It…was a dark period for us. It got even worse afterwards. Our resources were almost depleted. That's when I made the second serum. I learned a lot from the first one. We were able to eat the food on the planet, breathe the air but we couldn't reproduce anymore. Messed something up with the female eggs.
Eventually, people came to rely on me for everything. I gave them hope where there wasn't one. I gave them life where none could be found. " As Ashe told the story her voice wavered in the darker moments of it and Julian let out a grunt and then another round of pheromones in the air, this time meant to calm Ashe.
A small chuckle and then she continued "My way of going over the age problem is different than theirs. I actually died. This body is just a clone. Better than my original body." As to press her point, Ashevelen’s hair color started to change into blue, then green, then back to red and at the same time the skin colour on her face turned in opposite order of the colours of her hair then changed back to the original one.
Tiamat’s expression fell further as she listened to her sister recount her own trials. “I… we’ve both suffered. Tremendously. I’m sorry you had to go through that - and I’m glad you were able to help them.” Her expression became strained, “I didn’t… well, I can’t cast stones. We call our society the Commonality of New Ishtar - but we’ve only been such for… a century and a half? It was one row of rulers and military leaders after another before that. Before we finally learned.” She sighed, shaking her head. “The tube you walked through to get here is because this planet, too, is fatal to the unmodified. I wasn’t about to take chances, not with you. The air carries parasites both floral and animal and the atmosphere contains lethal concentrations of toxic sulphur compounds, the water is toxic, the algae is carnivorous. Everything on this world is inimical to life as we knew it. I won’t even mention the sapient species that used to live here before us.” She smiled, “But we too adapted. The most obvious changes were… not intentional. But we - in large part I - altered ourselves further. We transformed this world’s threats into our advantages.”
Her smile became strained, “It wasn’t like the void, though. I don’t know how to describe that. What I told you was… it was just the barest hint.” She laughed, a hollow, pained laugh. “I’ve died seventeen times, Ashe. I’ve been shot. Stabbed. Eaten alive. I lived for about fifty years as a disembodied consciousness within a neural net of a hive mind of nightmarish creatures clinging to the walls of the ark in some weird flesh mat. I watched my skin and bone change before my eyes and against my will into forms I didn’t recognize. Altered by some… thing. Something that exists outside the universe as we know it. And it hated us. It spoke to us. It drove us mad and drove us to kill one another in orgiastic frenzy of violence after orgiastic frenzy of violence. We came to worship it for a time. What else was there? We thought we might die. It offered us things. Temptations. We… I….” she gritted her teeth. “I don’t even remember half of it. I forgot my own name for a time.” She sighed. “All of those different appearances you saw? Myself - the diplomats, the something like a dozen other different Strains here? All products of that Void. All of them. And they’re just a drop in the ocean. There were dozens more. Humanity went down… I don’t know how many different paths of artificial and accelerated ‘evolution’. Some of them were truly beautiful, others so horrific merely looking at them made me want to shoot myself to purge the memories.”
She sighed. “And now I know it didn’t happen to anyone else. Just us. That’s… good. It’s good. It means the rest of humanity’s alive. Nobody else had to go through it.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “And here we thought we were all that was left. A bunch of failures. The last echo of humanity. We assumed that… since the other Arks weren’t designed with long term endurance in mind - to act as a generation ship - that their occupants… well… we thought we thought we were left with only empty coffins for company.”
Tiamat’s eyebrows raised as her sister displayed the chameleon-like abilities she had altered herself with, raising her hands in a polite round of applause. “Bravo.” She said, allowing a ghost of a smile. “You finally found the secret to bankrupting the hair dye companies like you always wanted.”
Ashe listened to the sad tale of her sister with bated breath. Occasionally she’d nod, smile and when Tatiana’s tear rolled on her cheek, bent down to clean it off her face to which Julian grunted loudly. A Goddess shouldn’t touch anymore.
“Sorry to hear you went through all that. Honestly, it does sound like you had a hell of a time as well. Generation ships were always a smarter idea than cryogenics and what not but it was deemed too dangerous, as you well know.
This…horror, Void you call it? Anything left of it? Any of those monstrosities?”
Sad as the tale was, Ashe’s scientific mind primed over all other emotions. A Goddess should never show emotion to her subjects after all. Possibilities ran through her mind, what ifs and what not.
“These are just minor enhancements I made for my people. I eliminated skin color, sexual oppression or stuff like that from my people’s mind. Only the…Goddess matters and what she wants.
I wouldn’t call you failures, some of those mutations look useful. Some I haven’t yet managed to make yet and others I deemed…not good enough. You know I was always a perfectionist. I can, if your people want it, check their DNA and see if they consider these mutations necessary or not.
With both of our minds, I’m sure we can find a cure for those that consider their mutations an abomination.”
Ashe’s words came slowly, she learned long ago to chose her words when it came to anything that was close to her Goddess’s status. Even if Julian was a mute and a very loyal servant, even he might find this exchange as blasphemy and if so, others might hear about it at one point or the other in time.
If that happened things would end in blood. A lot of blood. Most of it of those that wouldn’t want blood to be spilled. Innocents with no knowledge of the truth. No knowledge of anything else but the Church and their Goddess.
Tiamat listened as her sister spoke. “A hell of a time indeed, Ashe. A hell of a time indeed.” She shook her head, sighing, before looking back up with a smile. “All the same I… I just can’t believe you’re alive. I went almost nine hundred years thinking you might be dead - then being confident you were dead. And here you are standing before me!” She paused, “Though like I said, a little taller now.”
“We don’t consider ourselves failures for the mutations, oh no no, we’ve… we’ve long since transcended that little philosophical debate. It was more… was the best humanity could do really to only create something half decent after centuries upon centuries of such utter horror - violations of morals and everything we hold dear? Or were we simply a poor sample? Was humanity’s legacy to be carried by its worst actors? That’s what we feared.” She smiled sadly, “But we don’t need to worry anymore. If you’re still around that means others must have survived too, yes? I- we, it’ll be good to meet them too.” She trailed off, thinking.
“All the same though…” she muttered, “It’d be good to work on something with you again, just like old times, hm? I reckon we could each learn something from the other after all this time.” She grinned, and walked forward, arms outstretched for a hug. “But first - c’mere ya shit. It’s been too long.”
Ashevelen laughed when she heard “poor sample”.
“If you’re a poor sample sister then humanity was doomed from the get-go. The gravity on my world is similar to that on Earth, a bit heavier but not much, we just spin a bit faster than it.
I’ve met two more nations, one human and the other one…not human. Aliens if you believe it. They brought their war to my world but I promptly told them to keep it in their system.”
As Tatiana approached Ashe, hand outstretched, Julian made a loud grunt as if to say “STOP” which alarmed Ashe but before she could say anything… Julian rushed to action. Moving faster than it should be possible for a being his size in that gravity, he moved in front of Ashe and with one big arm flung Tiamat across the room as if she was a fly.
Almost immediately, he ran towards her lifting his massive trunk-like leg and aimed it at her head, meaning to crush it as a beer can.
After the initial confusion of Ashe, she as well flung to action. Moving much faster than Julian, she went underneath his leg and stopped his foot with her hands. Initially straining under the enormous weight and strength of the foot but then, the skin on her hands hardened and a chitinous armour appeared forming something akin to a shield. At the same time, her legs underwent similar changes and her feet turned into hooves. With more ground under her feet, she pushed up with her arms effectively throwing back Julian a metre.
His initial rage ending, he looked at the Goddess with remorse in his eyes. He merely intended to protect her and instead, he angered her and made her use her enhancements.
“JULIAN! That is our ally! She merely meant to touch the Goddess. Family she hasn’t seen in centuries. I understand you want to protect me and you shall be rewarded when we get home for it but this is not the time nor the place for it.
Go back to the shuttle and out of this world’s gravity. I think it affected your brain a bit too much. I’ll signal when you can come and pick me up.”
Dejected, Julian nodded. Protection is all he wanted to provide. By the time he would’ve left the room, Ashe’s body turned back to normal.
Tiamat hacked and coughed, bright red blood trailing from her lips and splattering across her hand. “Hell of a friend you’ve got there.” she wheezed, "Damn Ashe - and here I thought you preferred women. Branching out into 'big and jealous' in the past 300 years?" She flashed her sister a mischievous grin, pulling herself upright. “Big guy of yours has a hell of a punch.” She coughed again, more blood staining the elegant outfit she wore, “The hell set him off? He’s lucky I’m built tough - could’ve started a bigger incident than before, that.” She looked at the damage to the floor, “And… impressive.” She coughed again, then smiled, “Very impressive.”
Ashe shrugged off the last bit of adrenaline in her and looked concerned toward Tatiana.
“Are you alright? I’m quite impressed that he still managed to move that fast in this gravity. Looks like the serum works better than I thought. They’re meant to be able to fight in any kind of scenario. Packs a hell of a punch and can withstand being shot with rockets for a bit.
And, yes. I still prefer women. He just did his job. I am their Goddess and he is my personal bodyguard, also the High Hierarch of War. I need a problem solved that my assassins can’t fix, he goes in and no one but him gets out. You approached me without permission, he assumed you meant harm and did his duty.
Your mutations are quite nice as well. Most would’ve been killed by the initial hit. Bones pulverised and all that. Trust me, even my Chosen cannot withstand a full on attack from my Brutes.
Honestly? It was merely a training hit for me. A brute’s strength is bigger than mine but I have almost full control of my own DNA and trust me…it’s spliced with a lot of other types of DNA.“
Ashe took a deep breath and continued. “Are you sure you’re fine? Any medical facilities in the vicinity that you might want to visit? I’d treat you but…” she left the sentence hang in the air while gesturing vaguely at Tatiana’s body.
Tatiana grinned. “That is no mutation, however. You have your superpowers and we have ours.” She forced herself to a standing position, looking down at the dent that had been punched into her chest. “Probably punctured something unpleasant, though. But I can still breathe and it’ll take more than that to put me down.” She hauled herself over to the table. “The way we’ve maintained our own immortality is that, once a year, we regenerate and rebuild our bodies anew. Wiping away disease, injury, age, and more. Of course, in cases of severe injury,” she gestured to herself, “exceptions can be made and can be made quite easily. The younger members of our society are fond of, frankly, incredibly stupid stunts and frequently wind up dead and restored from personality backups.”
She looked up at her from her current seated position, “Now here’s the part where you tell me how you managed transformative effects like that? Some of us have similar abilities - shifting the colours of our hair, skin, eyes - etc. But that was a whole ‘nother ball game. How did you accomplish it? I’ve accomplished some tremendous feats of my own but…” She raised an eyebrow, “And for that matter - have you just been holding out on me? Where was this back when you had me get things down from high shelves?” She teased, grinning.
“But it is a mutation. Combined, I’m assuming with…cybernetics? You were always fond of your machines. Reminds me of that big black machine you hid under your bed…you swore you bought it only to see what a real one looks like.” Ashe chuckled as she remembered Tatiana’s face when she found the machine still turned on under her bed.
“Hmm. That sounds interesting. Haven’t figured out how to transfer the minds of my Chosen to different bodies yet. It was dumb luck that I managed to keep my mind intact when the clone was activated. Got to say, it was weird to see and talk with myself in a younger body again and… GOD it was annoying when there were two of me. I can’t imagine how it would be if I would’ve cloned myself multiple times.”
“Oh’ the enhancements? Long story. This body was made to be able to sustain multiple DNA strands at the same time, most of them are dormant keeping my current one, the Chosen DNA as I call it, active almost all of the time. It’s just a matter of concentration combined with instinct for me to prime one DNA strand over the other, it took me years to learn how to use it and it takes me months everytime I add a new one. Eventually, the body will reach its limit and that will be the end of it.
My Chosen, while their bodies are modified as well, they can’t sustain more than two DNA strands and even then, some turn…bad. We call them Rejected. Their DNAs fight for dominance over one another. Most die, those that don’t…let’s say they are monsters in their own right. Take for example, the Brute serum, the one that made Julian as he is? The Rejected Brutes are bigger but their minds are broken. Think of them as…5 year olds with the power to crush tanks with their bare hands.
Each of my Chosen gets to choose which branch of the Church they want to serve or are chosen to serve under based on their skills. Those that prove themselves will be modified to better serve their branch. Brutes, templars, priests, chameleons, virophages, zealots…the list goes on. They all have a different DNA strand besides the Chosen DNA.
I learned a lot more in a year on RADX-001 about human genetics and DNA splicing than I would’ve learned in a 100 years on Earth. The biosphere is very diverse and we still haven’t been able to catalogue all the animals, plants and insects but I can say, 100% they don’t like humans. We weren’t even prey for them, prey at least fights back…we were just a free-for-all buffet.
If you give me access to your planet’s animals, I’m sure I can cook up a new type of Chosen. Hell, even your people’s DNA will suffice. I am curious what I could learn from it.”
Tiamat chuckled. “You know I did briefly consider the use of cloning, at several points in fact. The Ark suffered catastrophic population loss several times, and it was a near run thing but we did not wish to open that can of worms.” She shook her head, smiling. “God I imagine it would’ve been a weird site to be surrounded by a few billion of me now. Glad I didn’t do it. I hope your little spawn wasn’t as irritating to you as you were growing up? Would hate for it to be inflicted on anyone else.”
“As far as the mind transference… it’s a complicated, intricate process. I can hardly convey all the details here and now. But to summarise it involves the transition of the brain’s neural activity synapse by synapse into an artificial matrix capable of supporting a similar structure. The body is then… digested, essentially, by a wide array of enzymes, and reconstructed anew from a stored template. All cybernetics or any body modding is incorporated. An imprint of the mind is also made during this time, to enable its recreation should we die.” She grinned, “We may not be able to grow horns on command, but we do have a respawn button.”
Tiamat looked at Ashe with a strange expression as she continued her explanations. “Really went and founded a religion on yourself, then?” She asked, “Got how many people doing all this shit in devotion to you? Shit, Ashe - you have changed. I’m in no position to judge - memory serves I was some sort of… high priestess to that damned Void before we found Light, and then they called me a demigod which I put a stop to.” She shook her head. “Few centuries and a hellworld really do change a person don’t they? Not a ton is gonna jump out and eat you on this planet. I mean, there certainly are things that will. But the real danger is that damn near everything is toxic, or parasitic, or will cause an allergic reaction, or WILL eat you but slowly and from the inside.” She sighed. “Guess there were a lot of short straws going around, huh?”
As soon as Tatiana started explaining the “respawn button” function, Ashe started to mentally take notes of everything she said. Maybe there was a way to incorporate the same thing in the Chosen…her mind was running at full speed thinking different possibilities and ways of incorporation. The moment Tatiana mentioned the religion bit Ashe’s face turned sour.
“Look. Don’t put the religion thing on me. It wasn’t me who started it. I’m just playing my role, nothing more, nothing less. When I first started working on the Chosen serum there were some people who said I should stop, that I was playing God and other bs like that. They hated me for it. I found my lab vandalised a few times…even tho’ it was all meant to save them.
So, you know what I did? I allowed them to call me that, soon after the first Chosen serum was made and people were able to go out without a protection suit. You’d be surprised how many of them actually started to believe that I was an actual God. Before I knew it…I had thousands of followers and then that number just grew.
It kept them in line. They followed my orders, they allowed me to save them from our hellhole planet. I’ve tried removing these thoughts from their heads at first, tried to make them understand that I’m as human as they are but they kept it going. After I died and came back…their belief soared. They believed that I have finally shed my human skin and showed myself to them in my Goddess form due to their devotion.
At this point, it’s just a means to an end. They follow my orders when I give them, they follow my vision of society…with minor changes to better suit the Church spiel but most importantly, they are happy. Housing, food, protection, fair laws and punishments…they’ve got them all. Criminality is at 0.1% planetwide. You know what that means? People just don’t want to commit crimes.
Even if I’d want to change it now and I could technically do it, it would end in the death of millions. There are some people, higher-ups in the Church that enjoy the power that they’ve got. They enjoy being able to order people around even if…months before… they were those people. If I would decide that I’m not a Goddess and openly shed it, it would undue 300 years of development and it would anger those that have some power. For example, one of my High Hierarchs, Pontius? He said I should kill everyone we encounter as they don’t serve me. While William, my missing Hierarch? He’s the only one that knows 100% the truth about my divinity and was the first to say he wanted to go out and explore. Catherine and the others are firm believers, some more than others.”
Tiamat grimaced. “Hey, hey. I wasn’t judging you. I was just… taken aback.”
She remained silent for a moment, thinking. “Look. I don’t know what I can do but for whatever it’s worth, if you decide the time is right to try and fix that mess? You have my support - and by extension probably the rest of us too.” She flashed an encouraging smile, patting her long lost sister on the back. “You’ve overcome the death of the earth, landing on a hostile new planet, the limitations of human biology, and death itself. If you want to fix this, I know you can. And you’ll have my help.”
She sighed, leaning back on the table, “Reminds me of when I was indisputably in charge. Granted I… wasn’t seen as a goddess. More…” she shook her head, “You heard what they call me. ‘Star Mother’, hah! As if I had any more clue what I was doing than them. I was lucky. I was well educated, lucky, and didn’t go on an ego trip with the power I’d accumulated fighting against that fucking Hive Strain. Easier sell on my part for sure. As for your… Hierarchs…” she trailed off.
Tiamat stood up, walking a few steps away and beginning to pace. “Yeah. Yeah that reaction is burned clear into my memory. I don’t think poor Scheherazade was quite ready to stare down the barrel of a gun for saying my name. I’ll have to make it up to her and the other two. Being willing to start a war over… that.” She sighed, looking back over to Ashe with an unreadable expression. “I don’t even know how you solve that. Peacefully, at any rate.” She shook her head, before smiling grimly, “I admire this Pontius’ fellow’s gumption if nothing else if he thinks he can take on everyone else. If only it could be put towards something other than worshipping a false goddess who wants nothing to do with it.”
“Thank you sis. Forgot how much I liked our conversations. I found someone to talk to, without all the bs, in William but he will never get up to your level.
I know I’ll find a way to fix this, it was a necessary evil but with the survival of other humans…maybe the Church won’t be relevant anymore. As soon as my people will learn about other belief systems and cultures, they’ll be given a choice to explore. I hope that they’ll take advantage of it and eventually the Church will fade away in the background. Same as it happened in ages past on Earth.
Pontius believes I’m a God. He thinks I’ll bring down the heavens on everyone who doesn’t bow down to me. It is one of the reasons I chose him to be my Hierarch. His willpower and ambition is admirable. That can be said about most of my Chosen. They’re good people, I’ve taught them to be good, they accepted it and spread it between the others.
I admire that you had the power to take control but didn’t. I wish I had the same choice but in that moment, it was either control or extinction.
Please send my personal apologies to Sister-Scientist 3-47 Asirin Seeks The Truth She Knows To Be, Sister-Sage 8-192 Scheherazade Dreams Of Many Great Things, and Sister-Artist 1-43 Sachiko Treasures The Beauty In The Universe. Catherine’s job is to seek unbelievers, traitors and the sorts. She believed that someone spread lies about myself and acted accordingly. You said it as well, if I was an imposter you’d rip me apart. Now imagine if someone told you that your God’s dead sister is alive. A figure of myth that somehow survived. I’ve taught my Chosen, via the Scripture…think it like the Bible, about our family and about Earth. As everyone else, I believed that we were the only ones left which meant, you died.
Of course, I prepared the Chosen as well for the possibility that we weren’t the only ones and that whoever is out there…ain’t friendly hence the “Golden Armada”. A fraction of it is in your system as you can see.” Ashe took a deep breath and walked around the room and then turned back to Tatiana, a serious look on her face.
“Now. I’ll ask you and I’m dead serious about it…please keep up the Goddess ruse. You aren’t my sister for the Chosen, you’ll simply be my very good friend from Earth. Tiamat. I hope you understand that while I was able to stop this conflict from escalating to a full blown war, I won’t be able to stop them all. If one of the Chosen will die at the hands of your people…I won’t have any choice but to retaliate lest’ the people will believe the Goddess abandoned them and things will get worse from there.
You have my word that as long as your people aren’t against the Church, at least openly, none shall be harmed.”
Tiamat remained silent for a time, watching her sister. Golden irises stared unblinkingly as she contemplated what she had just been told.
Maintain this garish masquerade. Do not acknowledge Ashevelen as anything but a friend from earth. Avoid offending the sensibilities of a people that ranged from pious to crusader-like madmen.
She sighed. “We really need to schedule a chat for something less heavy some time. This is not how I imagined the day would go when I woke up. You ever finish reading that fantasy novel you told me about? That one with the uh… dragons and the alternate worlds separated by centuries?” She maintained an innocent smile as she spoke, before letting out a heavy sigh. “I, look. You’re asking a lot. Fuck.”
She took a deep breath, “I learn my sister’s back from the dead, nearly spark a war trying to tell her I’m alive too, learn we both went through absolute hell - and now I’m supposed to pretend she’s… what? Just some friend from earth?” She shook her head. “Ashe just…” She began to laugh, a hollow, joyless laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation presented to her.
“The fuck kinda universe do we live in? Fine. I don’t like it, but I’ll do it for you. You want them to experience other peoples and cultures? Fine. Let them experience ours. We can share our discoveries with one another. We’ll give them the modifications needed to survive on this planet, you can give us those for yours. Certainly if we cannot be seen as sisters, perhaps, at least, our people can be in their own way. Sister nations against…” she paused, and the eloquence ceased with that pause, “The fuck kinda other nations are there out there actually? Oh - also, you don’t need to use the full name with the numbers and the declarative and th- you get the gist. It’d be like if I called you Doctor Ashevelen Chiritescu every time I spoke of you.”
“Tell me about it. I was looking not looking forward to today’s meetings but looks like this is a meeting I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world.” Ashe smiled, and nodded as Tatiana kept talking.
“I know it’s a lot. Trust me, it took me 200 years to get my head wrapped around this whole Goddess thing and I still don’t like it but it is what it is. Looking back, if I had to choose again, I still would’ve gone this path. Best option on the table and all that.” shaking her head, Ashe continued “I’m going through the same thing. We meet after all this time but we won’t be able to act as if we are sisters and all that. I get it, but it is better than the alternative.
And thank you. I’ll send you a congregation of my Church, 30 people to set up a church here. They’ll try to convert your people but as long as your people are not openly violent or so, there won’t be any issues. Feel free to send as many as you want over to us. I’ll make sure they are welcome but, as I said, they will have to follow the rules of the Church. “ as she finished talking, she took a deep breath, pacing around the room.
This day didn’t go as planned at all but it turned out to be good, but more challenges will appear in the future. People like Pontius will have to be persuaded that it makes sense for the Ishtari to live on RADX-001 and not RADX-002 while at the same time, the Ishtari will have to be constantly surveyed by loyalists just in case they might start something unwillingly.
“We’ve only met 2 others until now. Some humans and some aliens, they’re at war with each other. Looks like the humans invaded their homeworld and they’ve been fighting ever since. I’m assuming it has something to do with Earthfall. I’ve seen some gene-therapy done on the human while the alien…it is hard to say. They refused to give up some blood and I didn’t want to start an incident with two new nations at once.” nodding, Ashe continued “I wouldn’t have used their whole names, declarative and all that but it felt appropriate for the Goddess to refer to them as such in an official capacity. I’m assuming they are watching this conversation? And what’s the deal with your names? Something to do with your vocation, skills or jobs?”
Tiamat raised an eyebrow. “A fun record you’ve been setting for your first encounters, Ashe. First group you find two sides trying to kill each other, the next your own people nearly start a war.” She smiled, “I can only imagine next time you’ll discover some ancient long lost superweapon and start a doomsday clock that will lead to the destruction of the milky way galaxy and force a new exile to Andromeda.”
Tiamat continued, “You mentioned this William of yours knows your secret and is missing? Is there any way we can help? It might still be a bit touchy but… could be a good early symbol of cooperation.”
“Anyway, fair enough. No, this room is sealed to my people at least and nothing has gotten in or out. I’ll notify them personally after this is finished. I don’t want to risk someone causing an incident.”
Ashe put her hands to her chest, forward facing: “Hey, ain’t my fault. I didn’t expect that you’re still alive. If I did, I would’ve made the place for you in the Scripture and gave an exact depiction of how you looked back on Earth.”
Tiamat raised an eyebrow. “I hope it would’ve been a flattering description. ‘She of long flowing black locks and immeasurable beauty and intelligence’ or something.”
Ashe nodded and smiled “I’m afraid I don’t know where William went. He was the first we’ve sent through the Gateway and unfortunately we lost contact shortly before he went through it. There were a few selections on the screen of the Gateway, so he could’ve picked any of them. He ain’t one to go down without a fight, if he encountered trouble but he wouldn’t provoke it without reason. I’d appreciate your help, I’ll send his details over to your people. If someone finds him or his ship, tell him his ass is in trouble for making me worry for no reason.” she grinned at the end, while there was nothing between herself and William, they were good friends and someone who she learned to rely on in hard times.
“You gotta teach me one day how you ladies communicate like that, it would be useful. Imagine if the Goddess would be able to speak with everyone, right in their own minds. That would be quite something”
“Hah! That’s the one I remember.” Tiamat grinned. “Making people sweat bullets in pure terror purely because she was worried. Maybe it’s good you ended up as ‘goddess’ and not ‘space mom’ hm? Hate to think what you’d have been like as a parent without me around.” Her grin widened and she raised her hands in a mock show of frustration, “Raaawr! Alex, you were up at midnight studying microbiology?! You worried me sick - you could only remember the first eighteen X-linked genetic illnesses we’re trying to treat. Honestly, I’m worried. We’re a genetics lab we have no time for studying protein folding mechanisms in e-coli! I’m calling Tatian- on second thought I’m not calling her! I didn’t grow you in a test tube to be a biochemist or a microbiologist I’m trying to create the world’s greatest geneticist here! Well, besides me, I mean.”
Tiamat grinned even wider than before, restraining the urge to laugh. “Oh don’t even pretend to be offended everyone and their dog knew you only read a fantasy novel for inspiration to try and make dragons real. Anyway - far as the communication goes? It’s also a bit more complicated than I can readily explain in depth here - it’s a good old mixup of flesh and metal like usual. We can’t transfer whole mental patterns, or anything, but we’re able to simulate them within our own brains by wireless transmission. We have more… organic methods but these work better for long range communication, as we can tie them into our comm relays with little difficulty. It’s not quite the same as being fully neurally connected - you won’t be getting the full pictur- shit I never told you about that, did I?”
She sighed, melodramatically wiping her hand across her brow, “We have so fucking much to catch up on.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha. I’ll let you know I’m working as a goddess, mom, scientist and I part time as a know-it-all.” Ashe frowned as she said the words and then laughed, a proper full bodied laugh. It was strange for her to be able to laugh with no worries for a few moments. For years and years, all that mattered was survival, building a society and making sure everyone follows her laws. Even after William was chosen from the Rejected and they became good friends, she would never be able to open herself like that…there was always a problem, always something that needed to be addressed. Something was always there.
“It was scientific research and you know it! FYI, it is possible to make dragons real. I’ve got a serum for my most devout Chosen which makes them explode, think them as living mines, and they explode in loads of flames and acid. If I tweak the formula a bit, it will make them only spit out the flames and acid instead of exploding.”
Ashe waited once more for the explanation of how the Ishtari tech works and made even more mental notes. There had to be a way to organically do that without the metal bits.
“Hmmm. Maybe I’ll try to get some bees and take the DNA from their queen. It should allow them to communicate effectively at a distance, a hive mind of sorts or–” the rest of the sentence was cut short as Ashe continued muttering under her breath about how it could technically be done.
“Much to catch up on? That’s an understatement and you know it. We need to find a quiet spot one day and chat over a bottle of…whatever alcohol we can find that can affect both of us. I’d be surprised if we find any but I’m sure we can think of something.”
“Ashe - you told me at least thirteen times it was possible back on Earth.” Tiamat teased, “Now this may just be me but I might have even wagered you just had a thing for dragons beyond a scientific proof of concept.” She held a serious face for as long as possible before cracking into a smile. “It’s good, though. I mean the rest are great. Some really, really great people here but… not the same being the only one still from earth. I mean, only one who didn’t go insane an- nevermind.”
It was nice just to simply… chat. Chat about nothing important with perhaps the only other person who could understand her. And one of the few who could understand her even on Earth. Separated both by centuries and thousands of light years, by nightmare spawned horrors beyond time and space and by planets hostile to life itself. And yet… it was almost like nothing had happened. After everything she was still who she’d remembered.
“Or.” She said, “You could simply ask me to help alter what we’ve already developed to fit your Chosen. Sweetie you were born an innate know it all, we still love you. No need to develop our own separate systems from scratch when we’ve already done the hard work for each other. See, that’s why you’d be a terrifying mom. Not terrible, mind you, big difference. Terrible, no, terrifying absolutely.”
“Hey, I love my dragons, alright? They’re just awesome. Imagine flying on one. Gods…you’re making me want to create a dragon from scratch. Do you mind if I borrow your mind for it? Would be nice to have a project to work together on. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taught my people how to think and I’ve got some great minds at work day and night but none compare to your mind. “
Ashe then turned towards Tatiana with a playful grin and continued “Oh! I should really show you what I built on RADX-001. I missed home a lot and you, of course, so I asked my people to build me our house. It’s an almost perfect replica. Some things I couldn’t remember how they were but it feels like home. I even had them make your room exactly as it was. Your black friend got a few upgrades but it’s still there.”
“Your systems are dependent on cybernetic stuff, you said it yourself. I need something that works via a DNA link. Technically all Chosen share the same base DNA, it would be possible for that to be altered then again, smallest mistake and the Rejected will appear. Just so you understand, take 100% as the full human DNA…in the Chosen, that 100% is actually only 2% making the Chosen, 98% modified and 2% human. If that 98% goes to 97% then the Rejected make an appearance.
Now, the special Chosen will have a 51% Chosen DNA spliced with a 47% DNA from a different species and the 2% which is the basic human DNA. If any of those numbers are lower or higher, gene failure happens and then the Rejected make an appearance. Sometimes it happens randomly, sometimes it is due to a spontaneous mutation…you get the idea.”
As soon as she finished the sentence, Ashe slapped herself gently over the forehead. “I totally forgot about one important aspect of our collaboration and my Chosen. So, we’ve got the Chosen which are as perfect as they came be and all that…we also have on RADX-002, our moon, a full scale nation of the Rejected. They’re the ones that didn’t respond well to the serums they were injected with as I just explained. The Chosen/Rejected believe that only those that are blessed by the Goddess can get their genes fixed which in part it is true, I can fix their genes–” taking a deep breath, Ashe continued “BUT, for the same reason I cannot call you my sister openly, I cannot fix all the Rejected. They are meant to serve the Church and act as…cannon fodder in case of an invasion.
Your people are not to interfere with them or even set foot on RADX-002. It will give them a lot of power which the Church won’t take kindly to. That will make me have to step in directly which again, makes it seem that the Goddess chose the Rejected as her true sons and daughters causing more issues. Is that ok with you?”
Tiamat laughed. “Really? You went through all the trouble of replicating a vibrator from three hundred years ago?” She raised an eyebrow, “I… no you know what there’s nothing I can say to that to take the piss out of it.” She raised her hands in mock defeat, “I concede. You’ve beaten me.”
“SO ANYWAY,” she continued, clearing her throat, “We have hybrid systems. For long range communication we use a partly cybernetic implant - like much of our technology it’s a fusion of hardware and engineered flesh. We also, however, possess shorter ranged glands capable of transmitting and receiving a signal wholly organically, provided we are within the range of our synapse nodes. It is… difficult to explain - I was only tangentially involved in its creation, was busy assisting with military alterations at the time. I’ll give the schematics a once over and we can get to adapting a version for yours.”
Tiamat remained silent for some time as she digested what she had been told of these Rejected. “I… you’re throwing out landmines left, right, and center, Ashe.” She said at length, “And I’ll be frank with you - I don’t like it and the rest of us won’t like it one bit either. I’m not gonna pretend we’re some perfect little happy union with zero tension where everyone’s content. Only the Hive Strain have that and the less spoken of that abomination the better. But… you ask much. I don’t think you understand how much you ask. We’ve already tried to eliminate hierarchy and inequality in our society. Yours is… so…” she trailed off, resting her head in her hands. “Fuck.”
“I always beat you sis. Just part of my job as a nice sibling” said Ashe while pulling her tongue out at Tatiana.
“That’s good then, a first step towards a good relationship between our two nations. Send them over with your people when they come to establish the embassy. We’ll see how it can be done and implanted to all the Chosen. This will be fun”
“Look I get it. I know. I don’t like it either but I’ve got a plan. My society is based on hierarchies and it makes sense for it to be so. Order is maintained, everyone is happy. Food, shelter, protection…everything one wants, one gets. The Rejected are the exception in that they don’t get a cure for them. Technically one doesn’t exist, it’s just…a miracle of the Goddess that they can get fixed.
So, my plan. In the congregation that will arrive on your world, I’ll send some of the Rejected to act as bodyguards, cannon fodder etc. This will not be seen as a good thing by the Church but I’ll manage to spin the story, not a problem. Now, I’ll send you the cure for the Rejected. Everything that I’ve managed to discover to this point. If your people find a cure for the Rejected, that doesn’t involve using Chosen tech...my people won’t be able to say I favoured one group or the other. Ishtarians will appear as heroes of the Rejected, a strong ally to have.
It ain’t the best laid plan but it will work. How does that sound?”
“Funny memory ya got there, Ashe.” Tiamat countered, “I distinctly recall several instances where I handed defeat to you on a silver platter, need I recount them all?”
She lapsed back into silence as she listened to the proposal. “I… I accept. It won’t be easy - but it’s the right thing to do.”
She remained silent for some time after, quietly contemplating what she had been told before speaking again. “Heh, wouldn’t be the first time I’d been told my skills were the only hope for a bunch of people whose bodies had betrayed them and whose very existence was torment.” She looked over to Ashe with a pained expression. “I will need that data though. Everything you’ve got. Don’t know if I can do it but I’ll give it my damned best shot. Don’t rightly think I could live with myself if I said otherwise.”
She shook her head, “Shit, Ashe. Once again I ask - fuck kinda universe is this?”
“You cheated on those several occasions and you know it. Whoever brings a sausage in a conversation?” giggled Ashe.
“If it would’ve been easy, I would’ve fixed them a long time ago. You aren’t their only hope, we are. Without my research, you wouldn’t know where to begin. I won’t disclose everything about the Chosen DNA…trade secret and all that but the cure research is meant to target the specific mutations that the Rejected have. They all share the same dominant gene which if removed, it makes the DNA unstable and it breaks down. If you find a way using your own tech to either remove it without destabilising the DNA or replace it with something that won’t cause harm then they’ll effectively be cured.
Currently my cure simply removes the gene, reverts the mutations and then the Chosen serum is reapplied. Effectively making a “new” Chosen out of the Rejected.”
A deep sigh followed…”A universe which allowed two sisters to meet after centuries apart and countless dangers to ask that question. One that has a sense of humour.”
“A twisted sense of humour, if so.” Tiamat groaned, resting her face in her open palms. “I… shit. What do I say to that? I got nothin’.” She sighed. “Send me the data and whatever else you can. I’ll get myself and my best people on it. Don’t know how fast we can get it done until we’ve seen the data but… well you know how good I am at least - now add nine hundred years of experience.”
She stood, extending a hand back out. “One way or another we’ll un-fuck this galaxy together. If the Gateways are safe to travel through after all… we’ll be going through at once.” She smiled, “I’m curious to see if anything can top this.”
“You’ll have it as soon as I get back home. I’ll send over someone I trust as well, they’re a bit…weird but I don’t think you’ll have an issue with that. Please, make sure you don’t let them get killed or let them steal something. They’re basically a walking database of almost all of the Chosen knowledge and acts as a decryption algorithm. You won’t have issues with them if you keep them focused. The last of my Fist, my best scientist and maybe the most dangerous person beside myself in the Chosen. Their existence is a state secret, please, make sure it stays that way. From your people and mine. ” said Ashevelen with a grave tone in her voice. Revealing the existence of the last one was a risky move but she knew that Tatiana could be trusted.
The Anchorite. One of a kind. They were initially an experiment to see if one human can hold multiple brains combined with a massive number of DNA strands at once and it worked, technically. Anchorite’s body was made to contain all the DNA which the Chosen have collected and every time a new strand was created it is added to them for safe keeping. One could say that if the Chosen would be exterminated but Anchorite would survive, their nation could start anew.
The main problem with the Anchorite was that while they had multiple brains and they worked well together but their sanity wasn’t guaranteed. Each brain having their own personality, all controlled by an artificial brain created specifically for this purpose. Most of the time, they’re a brilliant scientist with the brain power of multiple people but occasionally snippets of the original people that once owned the brains make their way out and the effects are awful. One moment they are calm, the next one they are a murder machine as they remember their own death and the next they recite poetry. For that reason, Anchorite chose to be kept under lock and key in the most secure place on RADX-001. The Goddess’s palace.
“About the Gateways safety. I can say for sure that they are safe to travel through. The problem is with what’s on the other side. I told you before, I met with two other nations that were at war with each other and I’ve got a missing Hierarch which can mean two things. Either he was attacked and killed by whatever he found on the other side or he was detained by whatever was on the other side. He isn’t one that would disappear just like that.
Whatever happened to him means that other humans or even aliens are out there and they might not be friendly. At all. I’ve already mobilised my Golden Armada in front of the Gate and I can see you’ve done the same but what if we get attacked by someone who has a bigger fleet? What if they somehow manage to attack our planets, our people?”
“Are you sure sending this individual is wise? You cannot get the information through a digital device or…?” Tiamat sighed. “I’ll see what can be done. As for what else you mentioned…”
A moment of silence elapsed.
“If they attack your people, Ashe, then they attack ours. Simple as.” Tiamat declared at length. “I’ll do what I can to negotiate the formation of a formal alliance between your people and mine - and your fleet shall be accompanied back to your home by a cruiser flotilla.” She gave a grim, humourless smile. “If they think to attack you, let them find out the true measure of our fury. As the old saying goes - ‘si vis pacem, para bellum’. War is the last thing I want. So let us put up a united front. Let it be known to all that to attack one is to attack the other, and see who will challenge us.”
“It is as wise as they are. Trust me, you can call them whatever you want. Weird, mad, unstable…but they are a genius. A true genius. If they wouldn’t go raving mad occasionally, they would surpass us both at the same time and many other scientists at the same time. There are 2 other people who are alive and about their existence. You’re the 3rd. I wouldn’t have mentioned them if it wasn’t important. “ said Ashe with a low, serious voice.
Ashevelen put her shoulders back, spine straight, a very serious look on her face. Looking as official as a Goddess should be and put out her hand towards Tatiana.
“Let us make it as official as we can for now. I assume with your reputation, they’ll listen to you…so, here it goes. I, Ashevelen, Goddess of the Chosen, hereby agree with a military alliance between our two great nations. Furthermore, later in the month, we will send our traders to your system and open up a route between our nations and our scientists will share unclassified knowledge with the Communality of Ishtar in exchange for yours. I’ll instruct a part of the ships we’ve brought to remain here as well to protect your system as much as they do with ours.
Do you agree, Star-Mother 17-430 Tiamat Guides Her Children Into The Future, also known as Tatiana…sister?”
“Send your Anchorite, then. I’ll work with them alone. We’ll see if your claim of them exceeding the two of us holds true. I have a few aces up my sleeve now.” Tiamat replied. “I’ll do whatever I can to get this done for you.”
As Ashe’s tone stiffened and she spoke formally, Tiamat corrected her own posture too, subconsciously smoothing out the folds in her dress as she listened. At last, she nodded. “I’ll get our best people on it, ‘Goddess’ Ashevelen. We’ll begin drafting a treaty right away. Just in case we meet any… likeminded nations. A scientific, military, and economic treaty - a vision of a brighter future for humanity.” She walked over to Ashe, smiling. “It’s good to have you back.”
Commonality of New Ishtar and The Chosen of Ashevelen co-write the Allied Systems Treaty.
Creation of Allied Systems Defensive Alliance
Creation of Allied Systems Economic Union
Creation of Allied Systems Research Cooperative
Creation of Allied Systems Free Movement Agreement
Commonality of New Ishtar signs Allied Systems Treaty, Full Signatory
The Chosen of Ashevelen sign Allied Systems Treaty, Full Signatory
Commonality of New Ishtar has entered into a formal defensive military alliance with The Chosen of Ashevelen
Commonality of New Ishtar has entered into an economic union with The Chosen of Ashevelen
Commonality of New Ishtar has entered into a research agreement with The Chosen of Ashevelen
Commonality of New Ishtar has entered into a free travel agreement with The Chosen of Ashevelen
Reunion of Star-Mother 17-430 Tiamat Guides Her Children Into The Future and God-Queen Ashevelen
Beginning of classified Ishtari research into cure for Rejected, lead by: Star-Mother Tiamat, Anchorite