Threedak delved into Ashley’s memory to remember how to trigger the emergency release on the back of the shuttle. It hissed, the stale air inside the shuttle equalizing pressure with the cold desert night before she stepped inside. The interior of the spaceship was a charnel house of gore and charred meat, souring her delicate pink tongue as Threedak tried to taste the ship’s air. None of the human pioneers had survived the landing.
Reverently, she began to eat body after body, her large torso swelling as she absorbed the hard earned proteins and fats of the human leaders.
After almost an hour, Threedak lowered her bloated torso into the sand, memories swarming through her. Soon she would need to lay eggs, the biological imperative tripped by the amount of meat she consumed. Normally, this would be nothing but a concern for Threedak. Sustenance was rare and hard to come by in the desert, and most young didn't survive long enough for their genetic memories to take hold. Her tribe considered it a grave offense against their scant food supplies for any Dhajtel to lay eggs without the approval of the entire tribe. Usually, the honor of whelping was reserved for the Dhajtel with the clearest and most valuable of memories.
Now, that was Threedak. She remembered the lives of the eleven humans that were meant to preserve the technology and culture of humanity. Each was an expert in their own field. Dennis Billings was the greatest admiral that humanity had ever produced, solely responsible for the holding actions that bought humanity the time it needed to build and launch the Ark and its sister ship the Preservation. Mara Prentice was a metallurgical engineer, the inventor of many of the alloys and designs used by the human fleet. William and Amanda Drisco were scientists specializing in physics and biology respectively. Franklin Mitchell and Jon Reaves were the team's social scientists, specializing in psychology and governmental institutions respectively. Brianna Rivers and Davis Brown were the artists in the fields of poetry and painting. Mudit Singh was one of the greatest civil engineers that Earth had to offer with experience in water purification, sanitation, and transportation load management. Wang Xinyu was an acclaimed neurologist and doctor responsible for saving hundreds of lives before the invaders arrived. Finally Stephen Igwe was an economist and agronomist, responsible for planning much of Earth's farming and one of the central figures in humanity's elimination of famine.
Together the eleven of them joined Ashley Koenig to take up residence in Threedak's mind with the rest of her ancestors. For the rest of her life she would be able to relive their memories with the same clarity that she experienced this day. Some of them such as Ashley, Dennis, Stephen, and Franklin were fresh enough when Threedak consumed them that portions of their personality survived their death. For those people, like Threedak's ancestors, she would be able to pose questions to them and interact with their memory fragments as if they were independent entities.
This preservation of personality was why the tribe encouraged those who were to be consumed to give themselves to the tribe alive. The greatest factor in retaining a personality was the length of time from death to consumption. Eating an ailing Dhajtel alive almost guaranteed that their personality would survive in those that consumed them.
Threedak poured through her newly earned memories, trying to make sense of the alien words and experiences inherent to human existence. All of the pioneers but Brianna and Davis, the artists, were morose at their time of death. All of them had left family and friends behind knowing that even if they were to succeed, the invaders would've already butchered everything that they had known and loved. Interestingly, the artists weren't deluded about their fate. They accepted the low chances of survival and the inevitable death of their race and civilization. Instead, they just chose to be happy in the face of such all consuming doom.
She found their example inspiring. That was another word she hadn't understood a mere hour ago. Dhajtel were not motivated or inspired. They struggled to survive without any self reflection or questioning. When the time came for them to die and be consumed by their tribe, they submitted without complaint. Depression, longing, and excitement were human concepts, new and alien to her. Emotion in general didn't exist for Dhajtel behind anxiety about having enough food, curiosity about eating new beings, and a sense of duty toward one's tribe.
Things were different now. Threedak could feel the hopes, fears and dreams of the twelve humans thrumming inside of her. She wasn't sure if what she felt was something genuine and inherent to herself, or merely a reflection of the humans' emotions and personalities. It didn't matter where they came from. What mattered was that she was the first Dhajtel to think and feel beyond immediate survival and a concern for one's tribe.
With a start, Threedak realized that she was no longer Dhajtel, but now something greater. Mentally she named that thing Dhajtel-Human. Even if her body remained the same scaled form, nine feet from snout to the base of her tail, her mind was different.
Looking out over the empty desert, she realized for the first time that it was empty. Her tribe lived in a cave, carved by the wind from the sandstone beneath a particularly majestic dune. The most base hallmarks of civilization such as harnessing fire or building structures to shelter themselves from the elements all remained foreign to them. It might take years to replace that wasteland with the gleaming cities she saw in her memories, but Threedak knew that she owed it to both of her people to try. She would lift the Dhajtel from squalor and hunger, and give them civilization and purpose. For her human side.
For the first time in her life, Threedak felt the steady burn of anger ignite in her gut. The invaders took so much from humanity and it was all without purpose. If it had been a war over territory or religion, she could have understood, but instead it was simply a campaign of silent extermination. The twelve humans dwelling in her mind murmured sadly amongst themselves. Even if their people would never know the boon they had delivered to Threedak, she would not easily be able to forget it. Humanity was surely dead, but so long as Threedak and her spawn survived, an ember of their culture would continue to burn on, waiting to be fanned into the flames of rebirth and retribution.
Threedak gave a snort and pulled her heavy bulk away from the downed spaceship and toward Ashley's recently consumed body. Filching through her remains, she found what she was looking for. A small and ugly contraption made from composite alloys, Ashley's needle pistol had survived the crash. Threedak gave a sigh of relief. The weapons were built resilient, but it was still good to know that her suspicions had been correct. Glancing around her naked form, Threedak frowned. Dhajtel didn't understand the concept of clothing, so pockets were out of the question. Still, the fact that as a scavenger she wasn't even sent out with a ceramic pot or a reed woven bag irked her.
Checking the safety on the needle pistol with her graspers, Threedak noted that it only had fifty shots loaded into it. Ashley didn't remember bringing any spare ammunition, so those fifty shots would be it. After that she would be as exposed as any other Dhajtel, at the mercy of predators and other tribes hungry for her flesh and experience.
Glancing back at the wreck of the shuttle, she gave a chuff of disappointment. Maybe consuming such beings was a bit of a mistake. They filled her with such lofty goals and thoughts, but in reality they were nothing more than a collection of calories. At the end of the day, she was a scavenger with nothing to her name, scraping out an existence in the middle of a desert that would make humanity's stone age look plush and comfortable.
She walked toward the edge of the desert as she pondered her options. If she were going to remake Dhajtel society, she would need two things. Allies and tools. Locked away in her skull was all the knowledge that she would ever need to innovate and build the new world that she wanted to create. As for tools? They weren't a concern so long as she had access to wood and rocks that could be split or knapped. Similarly, allies were easily acquired. She had more than enough protein in her to give birth to a clutch of eggs and mold them into valuable allies.
The instincts related to motherhood kicked into high gear as she thought of her potential offspring. Threedak had too many memories to properly transfer genetically to her daughters. Until Dhajtel grew older, their brains were limited in how much data they could absorb. At most, she could pass on the relevant technical skills of two of the humans to her young. Still, with even two of the the humans' knowledge of science, combat, and engineering her young would be born with the cunning they needed to survive and the skills they would need to carve out a niche for themselves in this harsh world.
This was not the time to return to her tribe. The priests would almost certainly order her consumption as they tried to jealously gain the secrets that she had rightfully earned. Knowing them, once they had the blueprints and technology locked away in Threedak's mind, they would hoard it. Maybe every once in a while they would leak another skill or trinket to the rest of the tribe, but now that she knew what to look for, Threedak clearly saw their jealousy and greed.
The priests claimed that they ruled from a place of knowledge and wisdom granted by the clear memory of their ancestors, but the memories of Franklin Mitchell said otherwise. Unlike the rest of the Dhajtel, the priests had grown self aware enough to lie. With the power of these lies, they began hoarding protein and memories. Looking back, Threedak had never noticed it before but in each generation the priests laid clutches of eggs twice as large and twice as often as the other Dhajtel.
No, Threedak wouldn't be going back to the tribe to throw herself on their mercy. Even if she did, what was there for her there. Every day was a new exercise in danger as she tried to survive long enough to find something of use to the tribe in the desert. That was not the path to longevity.
Domestication and animal husbandry. The strange words flowed off of her thin pink tongue. Those were how the Dhajtel would survive. She was jealous of humanity, able to survive on nothing but grains and fruit that grew from the soil. Dhajtel needed meat, and meat was harder to come by. Still, the task was not insurmountable. Rather, it just added a step to the process. Threedak would grow food from the soil, but rather than eat it she would give it to an animal, probably the woolly hartden. It would take time but the hartden would breed and her and her children would have a renewable source of meat.
Unfortunately, domestication meant she needed to make a paddock and to make a paddock she would need wood. Her tribe didn't have many connections and the concept of trade was almost unheard of as any would be merchants were quickly eaten by their neighbors, but she was aware of the swamp. The tribe that lived in the swamp was the most powerful in the region for one reason. The swamp had water. Plentiful brackish water laced with protein and decay.
In times of need, the priests of every tribe would drive them to attack the swamp tribe in order to seize the water they needed to survive in the desert. It almost never worked. Dennis Billing's thoughts trailed across hers, delicate tendrils of paranoia and logic. She could almost envision the older dark human, shaking his head in the featureless room of her genetic memory, clucking his tongue in irritation. His voice whispered in the back of her mind that it wasn't meant to work. He cynically noted that times of need came when the priests decided that there were too many Dhajtel in the tribe to easily control and that the actual purpose for the raids were to thin out their numbers.
Glumly, Threedak admitted that he was probably right. Still, the swamp had water and in the water grew trees. That water could easily be used to grow the hardy swamp grains that the wild hartden lived off of. If Threedak wanted to create an enclosure for her hartden, she would need to set herself up in the swamp.
Even if she wasn't actively taking their water, the swamp tribe wouldn't take kindly to a rogue Dhajtel moving in next door, and they were a people prone to overreaction. Her first task upon reaching the swamp would be to lay her eggs. After that, she would need to seize the land her progeny would need to grow and thrive so that they could help her when the time came. For that, she would need to fight.
A feral grin split her muzzle, exposing her jagged teeth to the night air as her thin tongue lovingly ran over the barrel of the needle pistol. It wouldn't last long, and sooner rather than later she would need to create more sustainable weapons for herself and her young, but she had enough needles for one tribe so long as she paced herself.