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Blotting out the stars in the sky

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When Russia landed on Jupiter, the first thing he felt was its crushing gravity. Stepping on his surface, he felt as if his shins would break under the force of the gas giant. It was like hands laying on his shoulders, pushing him down, or giving him a too tight hug that squeezed around his ribcage. Still, he took a deep breath and shrugged the feeling off, straightening his back to look the horizon in the eye.

It was cold and dark and windy. A much deeper chill than Ivan had ever felt in the homeland he represented, or anywhere he could remember on Earth. Usually the icy plains made him feel gigantic, if a bit lonely, but here the desolation was crushing and made him feel miniscule.

And in front of him was…

A male looking human.

No, not quite. The man had human shape but Russia felt there was something not quite right with him. Nations could sense when another person was a nation too, but this man did not feel like either a human or a nation. He felt... Otherworldly. An alien? But he looked like an ordinary biological human, save for those soft red eyes, as red as the dense ammonia clouds that patched the planet's atmosphere. Everything else about him was mundane, from his pale skin to his feathery, sandy hair.

Ivan was mistaken; there was one more thing unusual about the man. He stood up from the mountain he was perched on and Ivan could see he was much taller than him, and Ivan was already quite tall by human standards. The mysterious figure jumped down from the perch and practically floated to a soft landing on his feet, seemingly unaffected by the immense atmospheric pressure.

As he approached Ivan, the latter realised who and what it was he was facing.

“Zdravstvuyte,” Jupiter said. Ivan was surprised the "alien" spoke Russian, or any human language at all.

“I see you are one of Earth’s children,” the man continued leaning over a bit. “They have told me a lot about you. They show me pictures of you all the time while they take pictures of me. I believe you and this blue eyed one, the one with the glasses, are the ones most responsible for invading my privacy.”

“Sorry,” muttered Russia without blinking. He blushed somewhat.

“But you are not here with the blue eyed boy.”

“We’re not friends,” Russia answered.

“Is that so?” asked Jupiter. “I would’ve thought you were. From what Earth has told me, you share many ideas and are more similar than you realise-”

“Don’t compare me to America!”

“-Or would care to admit.” Jupiter circled Russia and turned his head back to face him. “You’re not even here with any other humans. I know time must flow differently for you, but it must’ve taken you a while to get here. Your kind must be worried about you. You should go back.”

Ivan sighed and lowered his head. He readjusted the scarf around his neck next, his sister's thick knitting useless against the literal unearthly winds.

“Why do you exist?” Russia asked.

Jupiter cocked his head. “What a question!" he chuckled, "I’ve never had to think about it. Maybe for the same reason you do? Humans found me, named me, put a face on me, and now I exist in human form.”

“So you have existed only since humans knew of you.”

“Not quite,” he answered with the smile still on his face. “As a floating ball of rock and gas, I’ve been here for longer than you or I care. But this body, yes, perhaps it’s because of you humans who gave me a form. You like to project onto others and we are happy to adapt, within certain limits.”

“I think you are mistaken,” Ivan said, shaking his head. “I am not a human.”

“But you are made of humans. Certainly you are more human than me.”

“I’m not human!” he shouted. “I’m better than that.”

Jupiter looked stunned for a moment, as if he’d never been shouted at in his life. Then he walked over to Ivan with a warm wide smile and wrapped his arms around the shorter man.

“What are you doing?” Russia asked with the hiss of anger. He banged on Jupiter’s back and tried to pry his arms off. “Let go of me! First you compare me to America, then you call me a human! What makes you think you have the right to touch me!”

“Why are you here?” asked Jupiter with a giggle, his hold unflinching.

“I don’t know. Maybe the same reason you are. Humans gave me a name, put a face on me-”

“I mean why are you physically here, though perhaps the metaphysics are important to consider on another day as well. It is obviously not for curiosity, or else there’d be a lot more cameras and assistants with you. You’d not have come alone.”

Ivan sighed, dropping his arms to his sides, the resistance dying within him. “I had a fight.”

“With who?”

“America.”

“Your sibling?”

“No!”

“Don’t get angry again. Are you not all Earth's children? But you sound like strangers even to each other.”

“Yes. Enemies even.”

“Enemies know each other better than strangers, child.”

“Will you stop patronising me?”

“Not as long as you keep acting like a child,” Jupiter said, releasing his hold of Russia. “Go back home. There’s nothing for you here.”

Russia stood and stared at Jupiter, his coat billowing in the wind. The man much resembled himself. A bit thinner, but with the same translucency of skin, drooping eyes, and even somewhat of the same fashion taste: their necks covered by a collar in Jupiter’s case or a scarf in Russia’s, and a coat that dropped to their knees. It was strange to recognise himself in someone so much less fleshy and human than the people, mortal humans or nations, that he was always around.

The landscape of the planet was dusty. The violent winds blew particles into Ivan’s eyes that made them water if he tried to stare too long. The thick smog made the sky here almost pitch black but with barely any stars or moons to illuminate. In the distance, he could see Io and Ganymede. He did not bother to count the rest.

Another brutal gust blew dust into Ivan’s eyes. He took it as a sign to leave. He turned around and headed towards the space ship.

Russia struggled to reopen the heavy metal doors, even with his size and might. He was panting when he finally did. Inside, the captain's head was dripping blood, and slumped over the command centre. He wasn't breathing. In the back, Russia knew the rest of the crew were already dead. Poor pitiful humans. Despite their best efforts, nothing they invented could help them withstand the merciless force of Jupiter's Roche limit yet. Russia himself was resistant to it, but he could feel his legs aching as he tried and failed to jump back within the ship.

He tensed up as he felt hands around his waist. It was Jupiter. As if he were a baby, Jupiter lifted him and put him back inside the ship like a metal cradle. He turned around, but could not be angry at the man.

"Spasibo," Russia said.

Jupiter cocked his head and peered inside, his eyes resting on the dead captain. "How unfortunate. Is that why your people sent you here? Because you are immortal?"

"No, I am treasured," Russia said while shaking his head. "They would never put me in danger unless desperate. I ran away like I told you."

"Then they must be very worried about you!" Jupiter cried. "You cannot die permanently, but what happens if your body is damaged or trapped?"

"I will wake up next to one of my people and it will be okay."

"I see," Jupiter said, relaxing his shoulders as he accepted that answer. Russia was about to turn his back on the planet when, he continued, "Be safe on your journey, Vanya."

"How," he began with wide eyes. "How do you know that name?"

"Is Vanya too close?" asked Jupiter. "I'm sorry then. Ivan, was it?"

"No, I-, I mean-" Russia stuttered. "Who told you my real name was-"

Russia paused as he felt tears tickle his cheeks. He wiped his face furiously with his face.

"No one has called me that-!" he spoke through the tears. "In years! And yet, you!"

"You really are a human," Jupiter bemused, slamming shut the door of the ship, saying one last word in Russian. "Dosvidaniya."

Ivan didn’t bother to ask how or where he had learned it.