The journey to the mountains proceeded without setback or interruption. Threedak found enough flint and limestone to fill two of her crude pots before returning home. Already her mind whirred and spun with plans for her collected treasures. The limestone could be cooked in a kiln to make quicklime which she could mix with the sand from the desert to create mortar, whitewash, and concrete. The flint would be chipped and knapped into the axe and shovel heads she needed to finish Lament's construction. She was a long way from steam power or internal combustion engines, but they represented a solid first step.
She was mentally interrogating the figments of Mara Prentice and Mudit Singh, the human metallurgist and civil engineer she had consumed in the desert, about the best way to go about making the kiln when she arrived home. Threedak stopped suddenly. Dhajtel tracks circled her house, deeply imprinted in the wet soil. Her tongue flicked out, tasting the air. The fading flavor of stale and ungroomed scales assaulted her senses. No one was nearby, but the tracks were recent. She sighed, gently setting both of the pots down next to the wall of her house.
She had hoped that the swamp tribe would leave her alone long enough for her daughters to awaken, but it would seem that Threedak would have no such luck. Removing the needle pistol from her mouth, she briefly consulted the murky memories she liberated from the swamp tribeswomen before setting out into the misty bog for the swamp tribe's settlement.
She chuffed to herself. It was hardly a settlement. Rather the tribal priests lived in the rotten out log of a gigantic tree that fell on its own an age ago. The rest of the tribe simply sheltered in the shadow of the nearby trees to escape the elements. Without the plentiful water and mild elements of the swamp, the poor living arrangements of the tribe would have led to the deaths of everyone but their priest from exposure long ago. None of them would survive a sandstorm in the desert or a cold snap in the mountains.
Still, Threedak thought, chuckling dryly, if mother nature wouldn't discipline her wayward and soft children, Threedak could take up that mantle. Given that the swamp tribe wouldn’t leave her alone, all she could do was turn them into the protein that her daughters would need to grow strong.
Part of her rebelled at the callousness that had become part of her since consuming the humans, but she knew that it was necessary. Without her, the Dhajtel would continue, barely sapient, to scrape out a limited existence from a harsh planet. Even above and beyond her own desire for self preservation, she owed it to her people to survive long enough to set them on the correct path.
Her muzzle broke into an unfamiliar, human-style smile. Ultimately, the self doubt and concern about her own morality and arrogance were laughable in the face of the circumstances. Just ten days ago, she didn't even understand the concept of ethics. She didn’t even possess the sense of awareness or self needed to be arrogant.
The swamp tribe didn’t suffer from her doubts and introspection. They wouldn't hesitate to kill her and take her protein and calories if she failed today and their actions wouldn't have anything to do with arrogance or reasoning. They would act out of hunger and instinct. Just like Threedak had before she encountered humans.
Unlike the desert, the swamp didn't have any predators large enough to menace a Dhajtel so the tribe didn't have any sentries standing guard. She scoffed as her eyes ran over the disorganization of their camp. Dhajtel slept, ate, or mated without real care or concern around the large downed tree. Young and males, both tiny and non-sapient, scurried about underfoot.
Threedak tried to think of the best way to eliminate the threat posed by the encampment. For a second, she entertained the idea of trying to poison their food, but then Threedak realized that the simplicity of their society would protect them. Each tribeswoman other than the priest collected her own food. There was no central reserve for Threedak to target. Even their water didn’t come from a central cistern or well. Instead, Threedak would need to use irreplaceable needles from her pistol.
Silently, she sighted the weapon at a Dhajtel dozing next to the half eaten remains of a hartden. The needle pistol bucked in her hand and with a crack, her opponent's sloped forehead disappeared in a cloud of red mist. Several other nearby tribeswomen glanced up, confused but without context for the sound of the flechette breaking the sound barrier. Threedak depressed the firing stud once again and another Dhajtel collapsed missing much of her throat.
One of the Dhajtel that witnessed the second death inflated her neck pouches and let out a keening howl. First one then another of the surviving tribeswomen joined her. The low thrum of their vibrating pouches combined into a cacophony of sound, alerting the entire camp. Still, none of them spotted Threedak as she crouched low and fired again, eliminating a third Dhajtel.
She had to be careful with her aim, human weapons were designed to fight the armored encounter suits of the invaders and other humans, neither of which approached the majestic size of an adult female Dhajtel. As powerful as the needle pistol was, it simply wasn't intended to cope with their scaly bulk and a misplaced shot would injure but not kill a tribeswoman. Despite her methodical campaign against the locals, Threedak didn't want them to suffer. They needed to die so that her daughters might live, but that didn't mean that they had done anything wrong.
Threedak fired again, bringing down yet another Dhajtel. Despite the chaos and distress around her, she remained unseen. The swamp tribe was panicking. Dhajtel were milling about their downed comrades, tails flicking in agitation. From her hiding spot, crouched behind the stump of a tree, she could hear them shouting about the 'strange thunder' that was striking them down. One was claiming that their camp site must be cursed and that it was time to move on to the mountains or the desert.
The tribal priest exited her home, scales grey with age, and hissed to gather their attention. Threedak aimed the needle pistol at her, waiting as the priest tried to rally the tribe. As the elderly priest spoke, the tribe calmed. Their tails still swished to and fro with agitation, but they were no longer at risk of routing. Threedak fired the pistol, cutting the priest off mid word with a sharp crack that eliminated most of her head.
Then the tribe panicked. Threedak made sure to bring down some of their larger and more impressive and scarred members with the needle pistol. Solitary Dhajtel usually weren't as hostile and territorial as a foreign tribe, but she didn't want to risk a fight with someone almost twice her size. The rest she let scatter. Eventually her daughters would bring them to heel, but until then there was no real purpose in tormenting the poor creatures when they posed no threat to her.
Threedak checked the needle pistol and sighed. Only six shots left. Once the tribe broke up and started fleeing, she hadn't been able to get clear shots anymore. For many of the swamp tribe warriors, it had taken multiple shots to bring them down. With her inherited memories and skills, Threedak rarely missed, it just took a head or neck shot to kill something the size of a Dhajtel. For many of her targets, once they were moving fast enough that a headshot couldn't be assured, she didn't have any choice but to waste three to four needles to bring them down via blood loss.
Hesitantly, she approached the corpses strewn about the former camp. It was all a waste. The other tribe would rather kill than talk to her, so Threedak didn't have a choice but to commit an atrocity, but that didn’t alleviate her newfound guilt. The worst of it was that she could have used their help. Excavating clay and building crude dwellings was difficult and time consuming work. If she had the support of simpler Dhajtel, it would speed the process immeasurably, allowing Threedak to focus on more rarefied labor such as prospecting in the nearby mountains for the materials she would need to spur her nascent civilization into an industrial revolution such as copper, tin, iron, and coal seams.
She leaned down and began eating the swamp tribe priest. The priest's memories were clearer than the three scavengers, a testament to the quality of the food she likely reserved for herself at the expense of the tribe. The final thoughts of the priest rushed into her mind, but there was nothing to surprise Threedak.
The priest’s recollections confirmed her suspicion that the priests intentionally reserved the choicest of game for themselves so that their daughters would dominate the social hierarchy of the tribe, but there there wasn't much else of interest. The actual religion itself wasn't anything more than a collection of semi-mystical thoughts passed down from one ancestor to another about the holiness of the swamp and the importance of observing the flow of the stars to predict the coming of the 'great cold.'
Threedak snorted, her muzzle still wet with the priest's blood. She supposed it was something that the priesthood understood enough about astronomy to predict the coming winter, but other than that they served no real purpose to the tribe. She didn’t even use her position of honor to try and improve the standing of the tribe, instead focusing on maintaining what power she already had. It was a shame that such reverence was wasted on a collection of parasites.
She moved on to the next corpse, one of the large scarred Dhajtel that had accompanied the priest out of her home. Its recollections were murky, muddled and unhelpful. The priest had used her as an enforcer, but the confused Dhajtel had barely realized it. Most of its memories were littered with vague promises and pronouncements from the priest about how the more freethinking tribeswomen were rebels or heretics. As fearsome as the swamp tribe's reputation had been among the surrounding tribes, it seemed like most of their might had been focused inward, on maintaining the power of their priesthood.
Maybe she was being too harsh on her sisters Threedak mused. Early human history was full of similar stories. Before their race unified behind a single government, it was a common occurrence for a charismatic leader to stoke the fires of animosity or irrational hatred for personal gain. Human history repeated itself innumerable times with religion and national boundaries being most common targets when their leaders tried to draw attention away from their own corruption and mistakes.
It was more or less the same story with less guile amongst the Dhajtel. Really, the only difference was that the priests didn't have to engage in as sophisticated of lies and propaganda to turn her people against each other. Ignorance, instinct and hunger did most of the hard work for them.
Threedak continued eating until both of her stomachs were past capacity. She dragged her slow and bloated body back to Lament, heavy with the protein and memories of the swamp tribe, ruminating on their mistakes.
When her daughters were born, she would have to find a way to strike a more harmonious accord with them. Once they awakened their memories, they would all be much smarter than the average Dhajtel so the usual lies and mysticism wouldn't be enough to control them. Even if half truths and propaganda would work, that wasn't the foundation on which Threedak wanted to build her society.
She settled into her memories, querying the figment of Jon Reaves to try and determine how to structure her new tribe while she digested what remained of the last one. Lament would need to be a meritocratic society, but Threedak refused to create a culture without purpose.
That was the fatal mistake humanity made. Allowing hedonism and self expression to rule the day at the expense of unity of purpose. They became distracted and didn’t prepare adequately for the possibility that terrors might lie in wait beyond the boundaries of their empire.
Her daughters would be born knowing the dangers that waited for them as soon as they left the cradle of their planet. There wouldn't be time for them to grow complacent and introverted. Every action they took needed to focus on developing their world until the Dhajtel were ready to step into space and avenge humanity against the invaders. Even if her daughters didn’t share her desire for vengeance, Threedak suspected that the invaders weren’t keen to share the galaxy with any other race.
Mulling through Jon's memories, Threedak quickly discarded free markets and democracy. While such a system would spur innovation and produce great wealth, that was something for the far future. Right now, she had thousands of years of cultural and technological innovation stored in her skull just waiting for her daughters to develop sophisticated enough tools to implement it. At least for the time being, Lament would be a command economy with her as the ultimate ruler. Like a newborn whelp, the nascent Dhajtal society would need a firm but steady hand to guide it into the shape it must ultimately take.
Chuckling, she anointed herself Queen Threedak the First, Queen of the Swamp and Lord of Lament. Although feudalism certainly had its flaws, it granted its royalty the authority and control that she needed. She could grant titles as needed to her daughters to reward them and delegate authority, but for now Lament would have a clear hierarchy with her firmly situated at the top.