A decade changed the face of the planet immeasurably. Threedak sat on the roof of her two story brick house, sunning herself. By now, rather than towering over the entirety of Lament, it was a truly modest residence. Despite her daughters’ insistence she refused to move into another building. Bakai, Kahtash, Dahlass, and Pinrakt had all personally labored with her to build her home in their first year together and that meant more to her than any ostentatious show of wealth.
“Queen Threedak,” a voice respectfully called from the promenade below.
“Yes Bahwel?” She replied, stirring from her rest. Bahwel was one of Kahtash’s daughters and helped her with her day to day tasks as a sort of cross between an Aide de Camp and a bodyguard. She was almost fifty percent larger than Threedak and extremely skilled with both the pistol and cutlass.
According to Kahtash, the application process to work as Threedak’s assistant was brutal. All of the applicants were forced to go through a battery of combat, etiquette and management tests until only three remained. Bahwel and her two associates, Lindash and Istall, were all graduates of the elite special forces academy that Kahtash had set up in Oasis. Threedak had seen them in the firing range and sparring on the gym mats. She believed their accolades. Even back in her glory days when she led the conquest of the surrounding tribes any one of them could have easily wiped the floor with her in under a minute.
“An hour has passed my Queen,” Bahwel answered. “You said that you wanted to tour the new factories after your nap and asked that I wake you.”
“Thank you Bahwel,” Threedak stood up, shaking the sleep from her limbs. “I will be down shortly. Please let the others know that I’ll be ready to leave on time.”
She walked down the ramp to the second story of her house. On the table next to the crude personal computer that was Bekai’s last birthday gift to Threedak sat her bag. Some Dhajtel wore clothing like the humans, but that had never made sense to her. Maybe in regions with inclement weather, but this close to the great desert clothes were a luxury. The bag, a simple leather affair that hung over her shoulder was her one nod toward human efficiency. Maybe it was just because she remembered her first days near the swamp, carrying wet clay by grasper to make the bricks for the first house, but she refused to leave her home without it.
Threedak exited her house just under a minute later. Much to her guards’ chagrin, she still refused to wear any sort of armor or protective gear. They constantly lectured Threedak on her safety, but she hardly saw what there was to fear. Dhajtel society was consumed with a sense of purpose. Everyone knew their place and what needed to be done to fulfill their destiny to seize the stars back from the invaders. Her people saw her as both a leader, and the living symbol of that purpose. Harming her would run completely counter to what their whole nation stood for. As far as she was concerned, the guards were mostly there to keep the adoring fans away from her while she performed vital duties.
Bahwel led the way to her residence’s gate, an imposing edifice of stone lined with steel spikes built into the roughly twenty foot wall surrounding her home and the nearby gardens. She didn’t know the names of all the guards that patrolled that wall, only Bahwel, Istall and Lindash were actually allowed to approach within a hundred feet of her house, but Threedak knew that there were at least ten to fifteen on duty at any given point in time. She kept telling Kahtash that she was overreacting, but her daughter would hear none of it. The rest of her sisters agreed, and even though Threedak had the power to overrule their decision, she didn’t. She just couldn’t bring herself to force the issue when her daughters fussed over her like this
Istall and Lindash fell on either side of her, forming a triangle with Bahwel at the point. Bordering her house, only a short walk away stood the capitol building, a four story complex with three wings made from beautiful rose veined marble. Threedak still preferred the old amphitheater of governance. There was something intimate about meeting with her four closest daughters under the torchlight while the rest of Lament watched on that the current system of bureaucrats and ministers lacked.
They would still meet quarterly or in emergencies to make truly important decisions, but for the last three years the meetings had all been televised. Even if she got to see all of her daughters in person, it lacked the splendor of meeting under the torchlight and open stars. Plus, Threedak hated the way the television makeup made her scales look. She always ended up blotchy and off color even if no one would dare to say it to her face.
She kept walking past the capitol. It was almost a second home given how much time she spent working there. Her office even had a sleeping couch for when she spent long nights going over the reports from all over the empire. She snorted. Empire really was the only word for it. As of last year there were over 40 regional cities and three million Dhajtel under her banner. Truly a testament to their farming techniques and their species potential for logarithmic growth.
Their entourage arrived at the large government ground car parked outside the capitol, and after a brief search by Lindash for explosives they piled in. More tank than car, it was almost fifteen feet long and eleven wide with plenty of room for four to five Dhajtel to relax inside, especially with Istall in the driving chamber and Lindash manning the vehicle’s autoloading cannon. Bahwel rode in the interior with her, discussing the figures on the new strain of hartden that their scientists were trying to engineer during the ride to their destination.
Finally, after almost forty five minutes of weaving the car through well-wishers and Lament’s interminable sprawl, they arrived at the new factory. Located at the edge of town and powered by a combination of hydroelectric and solar power, it was Bekai’s current pet project. Once it was running at full capacity, it would be able to produce solar panels, the batteries used by Dhajtel in everyday life, and vehicles. According to Bekai, it would be capable of churning out ten tractors or twenty ground cars per day.
Bekai was proud of her designs. Entirely electric and packed with capacitors the ground cars would be able to run for almost two hours at a time without recharging, but that was more than enough to get anywhere in Lament, let alone another smaller city. Once the factory opened and the ground cars began shipping out to the far flung cities of the empire, Dhajtel society would take an important step toward modernity while avoiding the nasty period of fossil fuel dependency that plagued humanity.
Threedak and all of her daughters agreed. None of them wanted to recreate the periods of expansion and turmoil that wracked Earth in their futile attempt to claim more and more of its dwindling natural resources. After all, who would want to suffer through four world wars and six cold wars when clean power was so close at hand?
It was all a stopgap anyway. Bekai was only one or two generations of tools and equipment away from developing the house sized fusion reactors that finally freed humanity from their dependency on oil and coal. Cold fusion was fairly simple anyway. It really was a wonder that humanity wallowed around for centuries fighting over fossil fuels when they just could have focused on the way they manipulated hydrogen atoms and solved everything.
Bahwel led the way out of the groundcar, clearing the factory’s parking lot of adoring Dhajtel. It really was a shame that Bekai couldn’t be there, Threedak would have loved to see her daughter again but she was wrapped up in important work.
She paused just outside the groundcar, waving her graspers at the crowd as Istall climbed out after her. Almost fifty of her subjects stood, some holding signs with personalized messages celebrating her arrival while others had placards with the silhouette of the Dhajtel and Human of Pinrakt’s ‘Unity’ sculpture. Years ago she had declared it the official symbol of the empire, a decision her people took to with great gusto.
Threedak began walking toward the factory, waving constantly to well-wishers. Suddenly a grasper pushed her to the side, throwing Threedak to the ground.
“GUN!” Istall screamed, her sharp voice silencing everyone. Time seemed to slow as Threedak hit the concrete, her scales barely holding up as her bulk skidded across the smooth but hard surface.
Then she heard the gun shots. Before her horrified eyes, Istall jerked, her armored vest taking two shots from the crowd before a third caught her in the side of the head, dropping Istall's lifeless corpse to the ground. Instantly Threedak knew, those shots had been meant for her. Without Istall’s quick reflexes, she would be dead on the pavement rather than merely nursing bruised and scraped scales.
The crowd began fleeing almost immediately, leaving two Dhajtel standing defiantly. One, holding an old military revolver, and the other carrying one of the blasting charges frequently used by Sask’s mines.
Bahwel’s handgun barked back, causing the gun wielding Dhajtel to hiss in pain and drop her gun while trying to reload the firearm. Then, the groundcar fired, its cannon almost cutting the other Dhajtel in half before the blasting charge exploded, stealing the breath from Threedak’s lungs and throwing Bahwell to the ground. Luckily, the terrorist hadn’t been close enough to cause any serious damage, but the force of the explosion left a crater in the parking lot and shattered many of the factory’s windows.
Threedak climbed to her feet with Bahwel’s help, her guard using one arm to steady the queen while training her handgun on the stunned Dhajtel she’d injured earlier.
“My Queen,” Bahwel slurred, her eyes foggy and possibly concussed according to the whispers of Wang Xinyue. “Get back to the groundcar, we need to leave as soon as possible. We have no idea if the rebels have reinforcements.”
“No,” Threedak shook off the grasper on her shoulder. “Before we go, I need to know why and that survivor will answer that question, either in life or in death.”
Bahwel stared at her blankly, struggling to process Threedak’s words as she looked at Istall’s still body. Threedak felt remorse. Both that Istall had died, and that she had never gotten to know her granddaughter better. She had exchanged pleasantries with the skinny Dhajtel more times than she could count, but she never really remembered asking her about herself. Where she lived, how many young she had whelped, what her hobbies were. Threedak couldn’t answer any of those questions. Istall was basically a stranger, and despite that she had died for her.
Threedak walked over to the stunned and injured Dhajtel and reached down, picking up the abused revolver and a handful of shells. Bahwel trailed behind her, perplexed but trying to support her queen. Threedak slid two rounds into the revolver with practiced ease and drew back the hammer.
The Dhajtel on the ground looked up at her, confusion evident in her pain addled eyes. Without hesitating, Threedak aimed and pulled the trigger, blowing a hole through one of her enemy’s graspers. The Dhajtel hissed in pain as Threedak shifted her aim and pulled the trigger once again, ruining the other grasper. She tossed the weapon aside casually and slid down to all six legs so that her muzzle would be closer to her foe.
“Why,” she hissed, her exposed fangs less than a foot from the terrorist’s neck. “I have given everything for my people over my entire life and asked for little in return. So I ask again. Why would you do such a thing?”
“Tyrant,” the injured Dhajtel spat back, blood flecking her maw. “You and your line rule over all of us. You create wonders and go back to your mansions. You live every day content, proud and full. What about the rest of us? We’re dying in the mines of Sask, hungry after long days working in the fields, or crushed by poorly secured machinery in the factories that keep you fat and full of eggs.”
“All jobs are meritocratic,” Threedak replied, pouches flexing as a warning baritone entered her voice. “I’ve made sure of that. If you don’t want to work in a factory, learn another trade. No one will stop you from bettering yourself.”
“No one?” the terrorist laughed, a terrible gurgling sound betraying a collapsed lung. “How can those of us that were conquered compete with your daughters in a meritocracy? Our mothers pass onto us what skills they can, but none of us have access to your human memories. At best we awaken knowing how to do the same menial skills that trapped out mothers.”
“Your meritocracy and sentiments are worth less than nothing,” she spat a great gob of blood and saliva that splashed against the side of Threedak’s muzzle. “You’ve created a system that’s only fair to you and yours and we reject it. One of your great grand daughters got drunk and told us the truth. About a great human named K’arl Max that taught us what to do with oppressors like you. This time we might have failed, but soon Dhajtel the world over will rise up. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Without responding, Threedak leaned forward and ripped out the Dhajtel’s throat. Chewing slowly, she sifted through her victim’s memories. Truly the rebels were idiots, not even organizing themselves into cells or using fake names. Three bites later, all Threedak had access to all of their secrets. Names, locations, supplies, sympathizers. Everything.
“What a fool,” she spoke sadly, looking down at the new still revolutionary. She hadn’t even had it that bad. As far as Threedak could tell, her only real complaint was that she had to work for approximately half of each day at her job as opposed to the one third of the day her compatriots were set to demand.
“Come Bahwel,” Threedak turned and walked back toward the groundcar. “I’ll need to get in touch with your mother. We have a revolution to crush.”