Threedak stood in her office, graspers crossed, staring out the floor length window at the strand of iron and gossamer running from the great desert into the sky above. Below her pleasantly air-conditioned office, gleaming skyscrapers of steel and glass jutted up from what used to be the swamp. These days, Lament resembled a human city more than anything. The only reminder of its humble past was her residence, nestled amongst the concrete and bustle of the two hundred thousand Dhajtel that lived there.
“Queen,” Dormah, her personal doctor, interrupted her thoughts, an irritated buzz in her voice. “I must object. We both know that your condition isn’t stable. The elevator is only in its early phases and there haven’t been any studies as to how well the radiation shielding works. For all we know-”
“That’s enough,” Threedak interrupted, not taking her gaze from the ribbon of metal stretching past the horizon. “I’ve worked for years chained to this planet, knowing that my birthright is just out of my graspers reach.”
She turned away from the window, taking in the exasperated cock of Dormah’s head as the larger Dhajtel stood hunched over Threedak’s desk, her graspers all but digging into its rich wood. Maybe her daughters would have preferred a doctor that would just advise her, but Threedak had long ago learned that a yes-Dhajtel was of little use. As an absolute monarch, she had the power to do anything she wanted, but it would hardly be responsible to simply surround herself with sycophants. As annoying as it could be at times like this, she needed advisors that didn’t have a problem with aggressively trying to change her mind.
“I tamed the first hartden and laid the first brick in this city,” Threedak continued, flicking her tongue out and tasting the sterile air of her office. “I’ve read your reports on my health just as closely as I’ve read Bekai’s reports on the orbital elevator. I know the risks, but it is time for me to claim my birthright. Even if I won’t be ruling from orbit, traveling there is an important symbol for our entire race. A definite sign that the Dhajtel have taken their first faltering steps into a larger galaxy.”
“But your exposure-” Dormah leaned back from Threedak’s desk and threw her graspers up in frustration only to be interrupted by a chime from the office’s intercom.
“Kahtash is here to see you my Queen,” Bahwel’s voice spoke evenly and professionally from the metal grill in Threedak’s desk. “She should be at your office momentarily.”
“Enough,” Threedak cut off Dormah, her ocular membranes snapping shut decisively. “You have made your objection. I have decided to proceed anyway. The time for discussion is over. You know my standing orders regarding letting my daughters know about my condition. I trust that I don’t need to reiterate that not a word can be leaked to them or to anyone else.”
“Fine,” Dormah sighed in defeat. “I only speak because I care. I don’t have any desire to instill a panic, but I worry that you refuse to see the seriousness of the situation. Regardless, if you are going that means that I will have to go with you. If you’re going to put yourself at risk, it’s up to me to do what I can to mitigate the foolishness of that risk.”
The door to the office opened and Kahtash stepped through. She stood tall in the doorway, a stylish uniform of kinetic resistant microfiber adorned with medals and weapons. Threedak’s muzzle pulled up into a smile. Her daughter looked every inch the noble and imposing warrior-commander of Dhajtel armed forces.
“Mother,” Kahtash inclined her head, eyes flicking briefly to take in Dormah’s presence. “I’ve come to try and talk you out of this foolishness.”
“Thank you,” Dormah called over her shoulder as she made her way to one of the office’s overstuffed reclining couches. “She won’t listen to me. Maybe you’ll have better luck.”
“There won’t be any convincing,” Threedak replied, shooting a stern look at Dormah. “I will follow your instructions regarding my safety, but this is one spot where I am going to put my feet down. I will be going into space.”
“But what if some dissident group tries to strike you?” Kahtash asked heatedly, her tail twitching briefly. “The Cult of K’arl Max is still demanding ‘absolute equality,’ whatever that means. I’ve been hunting down their cells one by one, but they’ve wised up since their first attempt on your life. Their leadership has started using melodramatic pseudonyms and no Dhajtel knows more than four other rebels. They haven’t been able to manage more than petty vandalism in years, but I think they’re just biding their time.”
“Then individually pick every Dhajtel operating the elevator and working my security detail,” Threedak chuckled. “There is no need for me to interact directly with the public. We can simply broadcast my journey and stream it worldwide. Shut down the entire city for a day if you need to.”
“It’s not just the Maxists,” Kahtash fretted, her tail again thumping against the office’s hardwood floor. “The male rights groups are becoming more and more active. Apparently they want you to issue an order that men be cared for in the creches alongside our daughters.”
“I suppose this is what I get for listening to them,” Threedak snorted. “I order an end to eating males post breeding and suddenly they ask for both moons. If they want to spend the dak to build and fund preserves for men, I won’t stop them, but I’m not spending tax money on this when the invaders could be on our doorsteps.”
“Wait,” Dormah interjected, her head perking up from where she was resting on the couch. “They want men to be raised in the creches? Males are absolutely feral! If you’re not in season they’re just as likely to bite you as interact with you. Many in the biology community are still trying to get a handle on the extent of Dhajtel dimorphism. Outside of their reproductive organs, men are barely the same species as the rest of us.”
“They only have four legs,” Kahtash agreed, shaking her head. “No graspers and they grow to be barely two feet long. When my mind isn’t clouded by mating pheromones they seem about as Dhajtel as a hartden. About as smart too.”
“No more concessions for the males’ rights groups,” Threedak responded decisively. “They can do what they want, but every man I’ve seen wants to run free and scavenge in between mating seasons. Cooping them up in a creche would be counterproductive, and frankly I think it would be cruel to them. Even if a couple men die to natural predators or starvation it’s better than turning them into housepets.”
After some discussion and planning they broke for the evening. The next morning, a Dhajtel with a camera joined Threedak and her security cordon as they traveled to the orbital elevator. The streets of Lament were cleared with occasional glimpses of police forces restraining crowds of well wishers seeking to catch a glimpse of Threedak. It was a shame that she couldn’t greet them directly but after the first incident with the Maxists, Threedak and her daughters had become much more careful with her safety.
About an hour later, the motorcade reached the edge of the city where it was joined by a trio of walkers. A recent collaboration by Bekai and Kahtash, the walkers consisted of an armored body with a quartet of ‘legs’ that folded under it to reveal heavy duty wheels. On even terrain, it would function as an 8 wheeled armored car or tank, but on uneven terrain it could lift itself up and walk several feet off the ground on the legs. The leg form wasn’t anywhere near as fast, but it allowed the walker to gain a level of maneuverability that traditional wheeled and treaded vehicles couldn’t match.
Threed had seen footage of the walkers traveling at high speed on their wheels, leap into the air and land on their now extended legs before converting to a loping run without interruption. The added mobility allowed the walkers to operate in deserts, cities and hilly terrain that otherwise would have forced a traditional vehicle to stop. Kahtash was particularly proud of their ability to ‘lean’ forward or sideways, allowing them to utilize cover when firing their main cannon.
Whether it was the impressive security apparatus or Kahtash’s crackdowns, their drive to the elevator was unhindered by terrorists or protestors. The elevator ride itself was fairly uneventful. They steadily accelerated upward at about half the planet’s standard gravity. Threedak felt slightly heavy and out of sorts, but other than that no real ill effects as her entourage gathered in a corner of the cavernous elevator. Soon multiple elevators would be running at all times, powered by compact fusion reactors at a fraction of the cost of chemical rockets, shipping goods and Dhajtel into orbit where the homeworld’s shipyards were beginning to take shape.
Threedak looked out the window as the world diminished beneath her. The massive cities, mines and factories around Lament began to fade away. It was hard to believe that already there were over twenty five million Dhajtel living and working toward their race’s destiny at this very moment.
What a difference twenty to thirty years of development made. According to their historians, before Threedak took charge of their race their race only numbered between three hundred and four hundred thousand spread out over the surface of the entire planet. Logically, it made sense. Keeping large consummate carnivores like the Dhajtel fed was a daunting task, one that didn’t let any known Dhajtel die of old age. The competition for meat was simply too brutal for any one tribe to expand or any individual Dhajtel to truly grow old.
In the last ten years, Dahlass had solved that problem. Lab grown meat didn’t taste anywhere near as good as hartden, kithra, or even other Dhajtel, but it was much quicker and cheaper to make. Every city had great vats of the flavorless stuff, eagerly soaking up all of the nutrients and carbohydrates their farmers could provide. In return, there was enough meat to comfortably feed their burgeoning populations.
The rich still ate hartden or kithra, and as humble as she tried to remain, Threedak was partial to actual meat. The lab grown version had an awful texture and a bland flavor that no amount of seasoning could fix. Ironically, it was one of the Maxists’ major demands. An end to lab made meat. They didn’t seem to understand that without the lab grown meat, Dhajtel society would collapse. There were simply too many of them to feed with traditional pasture raised hartden.
She closed her eyes for a nap. To her, the Maxists were more joke than threat. She didn’t have anything against Karl Marx himself. His focus on the course of history seemed a bit peculiar and poetic for Threedak’s taste, but many of his economic theories and sociological analysis of class structure were far ahead of their time. The Maxists on the other hand, bastardized more than his name.
None of them inherited the memories of Igwe or Reaves. They didn’t even know what Marx had written. Instead they just gave rambling speeches and printed poorly edited pamphlets about the importance of equality. Even their conception of equality was baffling. All Dhajtel were given healthcare, education, and enough food to survive. Any that wanted more than the basics would have to work in exchange for dak.
To the Maxists, that was unacceptable. As far as Kahtesh’s spies had been able to tell, they wanted a society where all Dhajtel were simply given whatever they wanted and work was optional. In short, they were a collection of violent idiots. Exactly what the Dhajtel needed while gearing up for the existential threat presented by the invaders.
She drifted off to sleep only to be awoken some time later by the elevator’s changeover alarm. Like the rest of the Dhajtel she walked over to a nearby wall and grabbed on to the rungs embedded in it. About a minute later the elevator began slowing down. Threedak felt her body becoming lighter as the acceleration slowed to a stop. For a brief moment she was weightless and then the elevator began decelerating.
Slowly, with a grace born of Ashley Koenig’s painful memories of the same phenomena, Threedak twisted in the air, her grasper still on the wall. Her legs touched down on what used to be the ceiling. On the other end of the elevator, their tightly packed equipment shifted slightly as ‘gravity’ appeared to reverse itself.
Threedak walked over to the window. They were close now. Angel station hung in geosynchronous orbit over the great desert, connected by the tether of the elevator to the planet below. It had taken years to assemble the station and connect it planetside via insane lengths of highly resistant cable, but finally it was done.
The Dhajtel could easily access space without the risk or expense of rockets. It was only a matter of years before the other three equatorial stations were online and their orbital industry could begin in earnest.
Threedak smiled. It had taken time and blood, but her people were on the threshold of their birthright.