“What do you mean they think that it’s a ruse,” Bekai thundered, her throat pouches flexing as her tail twitched ominously. “Hundreds of their betters are cooling in deep space, their memories unclaimed, and these ancestor-less freaks have the nerve to claim that the entire incident was manufactured as some sort of war propaganda.”
“Calm down sister,” Dahlass still lay on her couch, avoiding eye contact with the hotheaded Bekai. “The Maxist’s are malcontents and radicals. They don’t remember the fall of humanity the way we do, so they spin the entire thing into some sort of great hoax.”
She paused, looking furtively at where Threedak reclined on her own couch overlooking the meeting. “Some have even gone so far as to call Mother an imperialist for the way her and Kahtash went about subduing the surrounding tribes and forcing them to join Lament.”
“Of course I’m an imperialist,” Threedak snorted, instantly regretting the action as the influx of air caused her lungs to burn with the need to cough. Quickly, she drank from the pot of soothing herbal tea that had become her constant companion at these meetings. “I am the Empress of an Empire. I will not apologize for what I have done to drag our race kicking and screaming out of the stone age. For as much as the Maxists complain, without me they would have been eaten by their sisters long ago.”
“Now,” Threedak fixed a reproaching gaze on Bekai. “The one thing I do promise all of my subjects is an equal chance. If our Empire is to stay strong, it needs to remain a meritocracy. I want my citizens to be judged based upon their capability rather than the identity of their mother. Some may start off in a worse position than others because their mothers couldn’t provide them with clear or valuable memories, and for those individuals there is no shame. We have schools and colleges to get them up to speed. I will not suffer anyone, even my daughters, to malign them as ‘ancestor-less’ or ‘freaks.’”
“I know,” Bekai flopped down onto her couch, frowning. “Some of my better apprentices aren’t from our line. The Maxists they just…”
She trailed off, tail twitching spasmodically. It’s not like Threedak didn’t know exactly what Bekai was thinking. In the days after the invader attack, Dhajtel society came together. Those that had strayed toward the soft lives of bankers and merchants refound their sense of unity. Ship construction and recruitment doubled almost overnight.
Then the Maxists issued a broadcast claiming the entire thing was hoax or a false flag attack. Almost everyone was offended. The families of the dead even had a representative hand deliver a petition to Threedak demanding that the government find and punish those that spread the heinous lie. Still, the Maxists’ lies didn’t go completely unheeded. The dark and conspiratorial segments of Dhajtel society were already referring to the Battle of Gabriel as ‘the great lie.’
“We all know who your ire was for,” Threedak replied, sighing. “The Maxists may try to push the myth that our society isn’t egalitarian, butI don’t want your anger to help them. All Dhajtel matter, even if some are born able to work and help the greater whole at a higher level. I don’t want anyone using slurs maligning another Dhajtel for not having me in their family tree. Now, I think we’ve sat about lazily sunning ourselves on this point long enough.”
“Pinrakt,” Threedak woke her daughter from whatever daydream consumed her. “Please update us on the status of the memorial for the Battle of Gabriel.”
“Ah,” Pinrakt cleared her throat, shaking her head slightly as her eyes refocused on the well appointed room and cameras surrounding them. “The sculpture is finished, a large dark monolith for the Ashley Koenig and inscribed with the names of every Dhajtel that died in her destruction. Surrounding it are four smaller pillars with the names of the dead from the screening vessels. The walkway up to it is made of polished bricks inscribed with the names of all seventeen thousand Dhajtel from the convoy that survived due to their sacrifice.”
A rare smile crossed Pinrakt’s face. “The opening ceremony and song for the memorial have been completed,” she continued. “One of my better works honestly. It’s just a matter of making the chorus and orchestra practice them before the ceremony next month.”
“Good,” Threedak smiled down at her daughter. Sometimes Pinrakt worried her. She always had her head in the clouds, focusing on the next project or installation and rarely interacting with her peers. Of course, her art was very good, but Threedak still wished that she would get out more.
“Marshal Kahtash,” Threedak’s mouth quirked as she turned away from Pinrakt. Kahtash tried to hide it behind her usual stoic demeanor, but Threedak could tell how proud she was of the title. “Please update us on the state of the military since the attack.”
“Bekai has made good use of the time the invaders have given us,” Kahtash stood up from her couch, graspers crossed formally in front of her torso. “With the round the clock work and sacrifice of our laborers, the navy has commissioned a new torchship, twelve new screeners and three hundred drones. The new torchship has been commissioned the Gabriel and it is in the middle of its shakedown cruise now. In a couple of weeks it should be ready for combat.”
“Speaking of combat,” Threedak interrupted her daughter. “How far along has combat planning against the invaders come.”
“We’ll obviously have a private briefing after the public one,” Kahtash replied, looking meaningfully at one of the cameras. “That said, things are going well. The solar collection panels on the belt have been programmed so that we can use them as a sort of impromptu laser if the invaders try to approach Dhaj. Additionally there are about twenty eight screening vessels and four hundred drones that don’t have berths on the home fleet. They’re currently slotted for ‘system patrol’ and as replacements for anticipated losses, but they could likely fight off a fairly decent sized attacking force if pressed into service.”
“Our scouts have shown minimal movement on the part of the invaders,” she reached forward with a grasper and pressed a button on the table located equidistant from all of Threedak’s daughters. “We’ve spotted a total of five torchships located in and around Michael’s moons including the three that attacked the Ashley Koenig. There appears to be a station and orbital elevator over one of the smaller moons that they spend most of their time docked at. The scouts have spotted some sort of city or encampment on thermals but other than that we don’t have a whole lot of information.”
“As for the offensive itself,” Kahtash briefly flashed a toothy grin. “Dhaj’s defenses are already in place, once the Gabriel gets the green light, we’ll be ready to begin. The plan is to send out the Empress Threedak with six torchships in support. Given the numbers we’ve seen that should be enough for a comfortable victory.”
“Of course,” Kahtash shrugged ruefully, “we can’t know for sure. The invader ships are slightly better than ours and we won’t know if they have any more tricks like the Casaba Howitzer until they pull them out.”
“You may launch the fleet when ready,” Threedak replied, nodding to her daughter while trying to keep a regal expression on her face. Internally, she was ready for the offensive to take place as soon as possible. The invaders were both barbaric and dangerous. Even if she didn’t want revenge for Laksheer, she just wouldn’t be comfortable sharing a system with one of their outposts.
“Mother,” Kahtash faltered for a second before regaining her usual confidence. “I would like to be in command of the Empress Threedak. Too much can go wrong with commanding remotely. The time delay prevents me from commanding effectively.”
“Absolutely not!” Threedak bellowed, her neck pouches expanding as she stormed to her feet. Her other daughters began whispering excitedly. “You are too important to the empire to risk on an expedition. I need you to keep our military and intelligence running smoothly.”
“I think I’ve already heard this debate,” Bekai cut in chuckling. “During the unification of Lament, I recall making the same arguments to you. As I recall, you resisted even waiting until we could craft crude metal armor for you.”
“Please,” Kahtash’s voice cracked. For perhaps the first time since her birth, Threedak saw a hint of tears and desperation in her daughter’s eyes. “Captain Laksheer died a hero, but she died far from home. I was helpless to stop what happened to her, but I will not stand by as that happens to yet more of my sisters and daughters. The Empress Threedak is the largest ship produced by the Empire. I will be as safe there as possible, but I need to do this.”
“Mother,” Dahlass spoke, her voice quiet and hesitant. “I believe that this is the first time Kahtash has asked for something in this fashion. In the past she has advised you or given suggestions, but it sounds to me like she needs this.”
“Plus,” a weak smile flashed across her muzzle, “if we are going to prove the Maxists wrong, what better way than to show that all Dhajtel are committed to the war effort. You did it by leading from the front during the unification of Lament, and now Kahtash wants to follow in your footsteps.”
Dahlass collapsed back into her couch, almost quivering from the emotional effort of opposing her Mother. Threedak opened her mouth to reply only to pause. Her daughters spoke the truth. It would be helpful to the empire if Kahtash led the fleet, and as far as she could tell, her daughter needed this.
Kahtash had always been a doer. While Bekai and Threedak might butt heads and debate an issue for days, Kahtash would usually just take charge and accomplish her priorities. Combined with her perfectionist streak, Threedak knew that Kahtash must think of the Battle of Gabriel as an abject failure. Hundreds of her soldiers had died while Kahtash was stuck on Meridian station, watching their lives get snuffed out one by one on the feed.
As much as Threedak wanted to keep her daughters home where it was safe, that was simply impossible. With invaders in the system, everything would be dangerous. If Kahtash was going to command her navy, Threedak needed to step aside and let her daughter actually serve in the navy. Given the disparity in projected task force sizes, keeping Kahtash home would be worse for her daughter’s well-being and psyche than the actual small chance of her getting injured in combat.
Plus, with both Dahlass and Bekai intervening on Kahtash’s behalf it just wouldn’t be right to overrule them. Pinrakt almost never voiced her opinion unless they discussed one of her projects, meaning that the chamber was borderline unanimous in its support of Kahtash. Even Dahlass, ever competent but generally unwilling to speak up without Threedak specifically asking for her opinion, had spoken in Kahtash’s favor.
“Fine,” Threedak replied, breaking the long silence while nodding toward Kahtash. “You are the Marshal of the Empire’s armed forces. If you think that our navy would be better served by you commanding from the front, that should ultimately be your choice to make. I am ordering you to take all steps necessary to minimize the risk to your own life, but beyond that I only ask that you exercise your discretion.”
“Thank you Mother,” Kahtash spoke quietly, not making eye contact with Threedak in an attempt to hide her uncharacteristic flash of emotions. “I will make sure that Captain Laksheer and her crew are avenged.”
“Good,” Threedak smiled, her sharp teeth peeking into view. “It is not the way of our people to simply ignore one that has wronged us. We may wait and bide our time, but we always remember. Even if we cannot act against them, we ensure that our daughters carry our memories and resentments.”
“Kahtash,” Threedak continued. “You will be both humanity and the Dhajtel’s collective sword. Strike true and excise this pocket of the invader’s taint from the galaxy.”