Threedak stood on the wooden platform, a crowd of Dhajtel behind her. In her grasper, she held a hand blown bottle, still dark as the desert sand it was forged from. The bottle itself contained a foul brew fermented from the grain used for the hartden herds that now occupied most of the grassland between the swamp and desert. She couldn’t stand the stuff and most of her daughters agreed with her, but the influx of new Dhajtel from their conquests loved it.
“Lament,” her voice echoed throughout the quiet crowd. “My line knows the importance of why we are here today. For the remainder of you, rest easy knowing that today we step into a wider world. No longer will traveling to and from the mines of Sask, laden with ore and the fruits of industry bow your backs. No longer will the trip to the pastures of Vale take days. Soon travel will be safe and easy. Seeing your sisters and daughters will be but a matter of hours. Communication between the cities will be quick and efficient. As of this moment we are no longer five allied tribes, but one united nation.”
She swung the bottle, shattering it against the side of the crude train. A meaningless human ritual, but one that felt right for the moment. Over the past three years, Lament had expanded to the point where one city no longer made sense. Its location provided it with a little bit of access to everything, but Lament would never truly be able to specialize.
Instead, the Dhajtel had built villages in nearby areas to take advantage of the resources that they had in abundance. Sask was the first to be built, next to a pair of iron and coal mines it served as their main source of industry and raw materials. Next was the community of Vale, built in the last mountain valley to be conquered, its fertile fields fed great herds of hartden and kithra. Both of the other cities were almost one third the size of Lament, numbering one hundred twenty and one hundred twelve in the last census respectively.
The other two villages, Crest and Oasis were more waypoints than anything. Crest was a series of caves carved into the hard mountainside roughly halfway between Sask and Vale. The town consisted of fifteen Dhajtel operating a pair of hotels, a warehouse and a minor but growing lumber/fur trapping industry. Oasis only had twelve Dhajtel, but that was fairly appropriate of its current role as the halfway point to nowhere. Kahtesh assured Threedak that Oasis stood roughly at the halfway point across the great desert, four days on foot for a seasoned hunter. The hope was that it would serve as a place for caravans to reprovision once a city was established in the plains and thick forests on the other side of the great desert.
Threedak waved a grasper at the crowd, briefly flicking her tongue out to taste the air and regretting it. Everything tasted of the heavy, dank brew. She nictated her membranes across her eyes in distress while trying to otherwise remain outwardly cool and collected. Over half of Lament’s three hundred and fifty Dhajtel were gathered to see the train’s christening. Some out of excitement to see Threedak, others for the historic moment, and still others for the free roast hartden meat and grog that would be handed out by government employees as part of the celebration.
Free. She snorted as she shifted uncomfortably under the crowd’s steady croaks of adulation. After the famine, Dahlass convinced her that their society had grown too large for goods and services to solely be traded in exchange for promises and social currency. Reluctantly, Threedak agreed and they began minting currency. The ‘Dak’ as Dahlass and Pinrakt named the intricately carved starvok ivory coins, much to Threedak’s chagrin, quickly caught on.
Still, after the famine something needed to be done. Too many of her daughters were seeking to experiment and expand upon their tribe’s knowledge. There weren’t enough Dhajtel engaged in the hard and unglamorous work of mining, farming or herding. Then a long winter settled over the world and there wasn’t enough food to go around. Sask in particular was hit very hard. Vale and Lament didn’t have the spare food to transport out, and Sask was entirely dependent upon imports and trapping to survive.
A full quarter of the city died over the winter, giving their lives so that their sisters could consume them and survive. Even in Lament and Vale, dozens of Dahjtel didn’t make it through the winter. It took days of Dahless exhorting her for Threedak to agree to ration their hartden herds. Dahless was right, if everyone was fed there wouldn’t be enough breeding stock to sustain the herds come spring.
In her years of prosperous reign, Threedak considered that winter to be her only true failing. Her daughters died one after another, and it was completely within her power to save them at the cost of their nation’s future. She wept over each and every one. Often she was the only Dahjtel present when they let out their last shallow, rattling breaths as the famine took them.
Threedak insisted on eating the first bite of each of her daughters that died of hunger in Lament. It was an act of self-flagellation. There was enough meat for her, but each death weighed on her. She needed to taste their memories, their sorrow and the hopelessness of their last moments. Even a year later, she still remembered each and every moment of those terrible months.
“You’re moping again mother,” Bekai approached her from behind, slapping a grasper on her shoulder. “We aren’t to where the humans were. We can’t control the weather and we can’t grow food from nothing. You need to stop holding yourself responsible for what happened.”
“I know,” she replied, looking up at her daughter. It was strange how after only a handful of years most of her daughters were larger than her. Proper nutrition worked wonders.
“The train will speed things up immeasurably,” Bekai assured her. “The cities that can farm will be able to devote more land to farming while Sask and Crest can focus on industry. Specialization and interconnectivity will only accelerate our society’s growth. Before too long we’ll be able to produce simple electronics. At that point hunger will be on its final legs.”
“I just worry about you,” Threedak locked eyes with Bekai. “It feels like you and Dahless are slipping away.”
She raised her hand to forestall the inevitable objection. “I know Bekai,” she continued. “Sask needs your attention. It’s the hub of our burgeoning industrial sector and it needs you there on site to ensure that things go smoothly. I’ve seen the reports of all the marvels you and your smiths have in the works. The same goes for your sister. The farms surrounding Vale need her attention so that we can avoid another famine. It all makes sense. I just don’t have to like it.”
“We’ll come back to visit,” she promised Threedak, pulling her Mother’s head close with a clutching grasper. “It’s no fun to invent things and not have anyone else to show them to. Plus, other than my smiths I think you’re the only one who actually understands what I’m doing.”
“Of course,” Threedak’s muzzle curved into a sad smile. “I know how close you are to putting together a coal generator and simple batteries. Before long we’ll be able to convert to cleaner power and start work on proper factories. It’ll just be lonely without you and your sister here.”
“Mother,” Bekai gently placed a grasper on either side of Threedak’s muzzle, guiding her Mother’s gaze back toward her. “You won’t be alone. Kahtesh and Pinrakt will still be here. Plus, you have an entire society to rule. You’ll be so busy you won’t even notice that we’re gone.”
“I think it’s only a matter of time before Kahtesh relocates to Oasis,” Threedak sighed. “She keeps talking about how her soldiers will grow soft from city living. Every time I speak to her she’s always putting together another training plan to toughen them up and prepare. Apparently there’s natural sulfur in some of the springs near Oasis. She’s already putting together plans to make black powder weapons.”
“Pinrakt will be here,” Bekai responded. “Her and her apprentices are wrapped up in the mosaic they’re installing in the walls of the new palace. Even if the rest of us aren’t around, she’ll be there to keep you company.”
“You know better than that,” Threedak chuckled. “When Pinrakt gets wrapped up in a project she loses all track of time. It’d be more effective for me to talk to a hartden than try to get an answer out of her while she’s trying to get the perfect tint for the glass shards she’s putting onto the wall.”
“I wouldn’t change anything,” she sighed, stopping her Daughter from another inevitable attempt to cheer her up. “This is as it should be. My daughters are full grown, each shouldering their own responsibilities across our young nation. I’ll miss having you here with me, but that would involve turning our backs on the Dhajtel’s collective destiny. We will never be able to claim our birthright in space without progress, and the quickest path there is for each of you to do what they are best at.”
“Dahless will continue to handle our food supplies and economy,” Threedak turned from her daughter, staring off toward the nearby mountains. “You will push our understanding and technical capacity. Kahtesh will make sure that we are able to withstand and trial, internal or external. Pinrakt will stay here in the capital, home of our administration and culture and nurture the next generation of artists and dreamers.”
“Still,” Threedak didn’t turn from the mountains, her daughters’ presence heavy behind her. “Let a mother grieve as her daughters leave the nest.”
“I,” Bekai’s muzzle opened and closed. The crowds cleared the train station behind them, heading to the celebratory barbeque.
“I only have one request,” Threedak turned back to face her daughter, the ghost of a smile exposing her sharp teeth. “As soon as we have electricity, expedite developing the telegraph. I want to be able to hear from all of you as you take up where I have left off, molding our race into what it will need to be.”