Veerkea’s life began at sea. Literally, of course: like almost all ijtikris, she hatched from a free-floating egg, grew as an instinct-driven larva for two years, and metamorphosed into her adult, squid-like body before clambering to shore, drawing her first breath of air, and searching for other ijtikris to adopt as her family. Yet, ijtikris hadn’t ruled the planet Iji since ancient times, when the technologically superior Veskarium conquered, annexed, and renamed the world Vesk-2, the first of many conquests. So, when young Veerkea first peeked her upper eyes above the waves, she instead spotted and reflexively bonded to a vesk squadron performing amphibious landing drills along the beach. The vesk gave her a name and a hearty welcome, delighted in teaching her Vesk profanity for the afternoon, and then transported her to the nearest settlement on the isle of Ijahi for proper adoption, but Veerkea vehemently and violently protested being separated from her new family. Impressed by her outburst’s ferocity and considering this a sign the god Damoritosh’s favor, the local commander allowed the new unit to remain together.
Part daughter, part mascot, Veerkea thrived under her myriad parents’ tutelage. Her formal education was straightforward: Veskarium lore, physical training, tactics, weapon proficiency, demolitions, and field repairs. Wherever the unit traveled, she absorbed languages, cultural norms, and local technologies even more quickly than her basic foundation. In her final year abroad, the unit operated alongside a predominantly shirren humanitarian mission on a survey of Swarm-ravaged worlds. Where survivors held out, the joint operation provided material aid, spiritual succor courtesy of the god Hylax, and assistance clearing out remaining Swarm hives. Where none had survived, the operation catalogued the damage and whatever remained of these now extinct societies. With each ruined world, Veerkea not only grew more intrigued by the compassionate teachings of Hylax, the Forever Queen, she also saw parallels between these ravaged planets and unanswered questions she had about her own home world. Who were the ijtikris really? And what were they like before the Veskarium invaded?
To their credit, both the shirrens and vesk supported her inquiries. Her sergeant-mother, Bhaskeh, secured her what scant imperial documentation survived the pre-Gap conquest of Vesk-2. The more Veerkea read, though, the more the narrative fell apart, seemingly stitched together by placating guesses from fifth-hand sources. Even the venerated poem Skyships Over Shallow Seas, supposedly written by an eyewitness, began with “The skyships arrived with the monsoon rains,” yet the planet had never experienced seasons, much less monsoons. Veerkea had to learn more, and with Bhaskeh’s glowing recommendation to their superiors, the ijtikri secured admission to the prestigious Xakemath College of Cultural Studies on Vesk Prime.
Illustration by Remko Troost
Meet the Iconics: Veerkea
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
It proved a terrible fit. The social sciences had undergone an uneasy revolution since the Silent War’s conclusion years before, but the Xakemath College of Cultural Studies remained a stubborn bastion of tenure and tradition. Its curriculum taught culture through the Veskarium’s lens: understanding Veskarium cultures as they fit into the empire, identifying fissures in alien societies to exploit during war, leveraging key cultural traditions in conquered peoples to minimize rebellion and maximize harmony, and exploring ruins to salvage forgotten technologies for integration into the military. In practice, Veerkea absorbed few affirmative lessons from her required reading, instead treating each record as another miscalculation in vesk xenoanthropology. Though she was too shy to challenge her instructors’ lectures in person, her essays became increasingly confident critiques of the field. Perhaps surprisingly, her instructors never punished her dissident thoughts. Instead, her essays registered as heartfelt challenge—like a young warrior boasting about her unbeatable combat style—and, by Damoritosh, the best way to test insolent claims was on the battlefield! They had just the site in mind.
To her surprise, Veerkea graduated with distinction a year early, and with her diploma came her new assignment as archaeological consultant to a military operation on a no-name planetoid along the Veskarium’s frontier. The low-gravity rock was barren save for a crashed starship and the hundred soldiers forming a perimeter around it, with heavy weapons trained on the wreckage. The commander quickly checked her paperwork, asked if she was the negotiator they were waiting for and, without waiting for her answer, called out to the soldiers: “Make way! We’re sending in the archaeologist!” Giving her a datapad and a grim salute, the commander wished Veerkea luck and pointed her to the wreckage.
She skimmed files as quickly as she could—wreckage that seemed to predate the Gap, advanced technology, initial successes by salvage crews…then attacks, robotic clouds that shredded flesh from the inside out, and several skirmishes fought to a stalemate. What a mess. She clambered inside through an airlock blown off by Vesk ordnance and began exploring and documenting the mysterious starship. Although unfamiliar, the technologies seemed intuitive, and she experimentally flipped a few switches to check for power. Something awoke. Rushing along the corridors, countless particles swarmed together into a roiling mass of nanites that screeched an unintelligible challenge. Veerkea froze, wanting to reach for her sidearm. Yet she spotted the bullet holes and triple gashes of doshko blades here and knew that not only had the vesk tried combat and failed, but also that her own methodologies were being put to the test. And so, she spoke.
For more than an hour, the cloud and ijtikri spoke past one another, struggling to find some common linguistic ground. She drew simple pictures on the datapad, the cloud reshaped itself into simple pictures of its own, yet their slow progress seemed only to aggravate the strange being. Lacking a better option, Veerkea sketched Hylax’s sacred symbol. In an instant of apparent curiosity or recognition, the cloud calmed, slowed, and approached. As it formed pseudopods to touch the symbol, Veerkea lifted one of her own arms in greeting, and the cloud obliged by reaching out to make contact. With a touch, the ijtikri’s mind swam with the cloud’s projected telepathic thoughts.
“I am the child of a devastated world,” sang the voice, yet Veerkea thought the same words and knew them true of herself. Again, they projected their thoughts at each other, each saying, “Mine is a history all have forgotten.” A shiver rippled through the cloud, as though it were confused or pleasantly surprised by how closely their thoughts aligned. Embarrassed, Verrkea motioned for her strange friend to speak first, and the cloud obliged, reshaping itself into hazy silhouettes of skylines, landscapes, and people as it spoke. “I remember so little: beautiful cities with soaring arches, rolling hills rising above purple seas, creatures whose names I don’t know, people with stories I have forgotten…and then here.” The cloud stopped swirling and reshaping. “Alone. Homeless.”
Veerkea’s eyes dimmed with sadness, and she offered her own tale of conflict, devastation, and dogma, yet also of compassion, camaraderie, and discovery. Of a young ijtikri who poked her eyes above the waves and found an unconditionally supportive family…and she ended her thoughts with “Not alone.” Less a statement of sympathy than a promise. Sensing an invitation, the cloud washed over Veerkea, settling on her before the particles painlessly melded into her skin. “Not alone,” it echoed. “Home.”
Veerkea’s apparent victory impressed the Veskarium, with her superiors equating her taming the nanites to a warrior taming a wild defrex to use as a mount. However, Veerkea retired after only a few more years, using her earnings to travel the stars and catalogue forgotten societies’ stories. Her and her nanites’ thoughts are as one, yet on occasion and without warning, the cloud reshapes into some image as if reliving a forgotten dream or channeling some omen from Hylax. Veerkea is quick to catalogue these strange clues, certain that one day they’ll help her locate her passengers’ lost home.
Starfinder Senior Developer