Threedak’s daughters gathered into her home on Lament one by one. Kahtash was the first to arrive, having already been in the city after her meeting with Threedak the night before. She greeted Threedak cordially, but with anxiety flicking her tail to and fro. They made small talk for a while before Threedak realized that her presence was simply agitating her daughter, so she left Kahtash to review reports on the construction of a new torchship and awaited the rest of her daughters.
Pinrakt and Dahlass showed up together, chatting about an installation project designed to honor the valor of the marines that participated in the anti-Maxist campaign as well those who died in the struggle against the invaders. Pinrakt simply greeted her Threedak by leaning in and clasping graspers with her, but Dahlass lingered a little more, clearly wanting to say something but instead letting her shyness take advantage of her.
Finally Bekai completed the ensemble. Almost immediately she began peppering Threedak with questions about her health. She deferred all questions until later, a slight smile on her muzzle.
Dormah had been right, the smug woman normally was. Even if her daughters didn’t know the specifics, they guessed and they were worried. Well, except for Pinrakt. Threedak vaguely suspected that Pinrakt wouldn’t notice a missing tail on her part unless she needed Threedak to model for a painting or a sculpture. They deserved to know and she’d kept her daughters in the dark for too long.
After all, the four of them were the pillars that the empire rested on. Threedak couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, and she had no choice but to rely upon her daughters to rule in her stead. More than that, as much as she had inherited the entirety of the humans’ memories as opposed to the curated versions she passed on to her daughters, they’d spent a lifetime honing their skills. Much of what Threedak knew was theoretical, based in the technology and social mores of a dead society.
Although she was generally more well rounded and skilled than all of her daughters, each of them was far more talented than her in their specific specialties. Most importantly, she trusted them in a way that she suspected the humans occupying her mind would find perplexing. She knew her daughters as they knew her, and they cared for each other and their race deeply.
Even if Bekai might be too impulsive sometimes, or Dahlass and Kahtash might fail to speak up, Threedak trusted their judgement implicitly. Each of them shared her vision of what the Dhajtel race must become in order to thrive, and all of them were willing to sacrifice everything in order to achieve that goal.
She walked into her study to speak to her daughters once more. Dormah was already there, a constant companion these days. Threedak sighed. Yet another Dhajtel she’d leaned on more than she should with too little thanks. Dormah might not be her daughter, but over the years she’d become as close as one. It wasn’t the same, Dormah didn’t feel like immediate family to her, but still the deep bond of affection was there.
Bekai stood up as she walked in, prepared to immediately bury her in questions. Threedak raised a grasper, quieting her daughter.
“There will be plenty of time for that my love,” Threedak said, her voice harsh in her ears. She hadn’t taken her painkillers today and even speaking for a short amount of time rapidly turned into agony. “For now we need to talk about the shape of things to come. I know you all wish to know about my health. Suffice it to say that I am not well at the moment. Dormah and I will share the details with you later, but for now we need to chart the course of the empire.”
“Yesterday,” Threedak walked over to a nearby couch and picked up the mug of tea placed in front of it. Already her throat was beginning to burn and before long she would need the liquid. “Kahtash brought me a still living invader and I consumed its memory. As great as the threat seemed from the memories of the humans, it was understated. The invaders refer to themselves as the vanguard and they are little more than biological robots, programmed to build infrastructure for their masters and kill any races that might contest their master’s ownership of the galaxy.”
“They aren’t taught how to communicate with any species other than themselves and their masters,” Threedak took a sip from the steaming mug. “There is no need. They’ve been programmed to dispose of all other races upon encountering them. Humanity was not the first race to be dragged to a screaming doom by the vanguard and unless we stop them, they will not be the last.”
“The vanguard set out in four great fleets,” Threedak continued, eyes steely as she recounted the stolen memories. “Each building and cleansing outward from their master’s homeworld. The entirety of human civilization was destroyed by a portion of one such fleet.”
“Worse,” she blew the steam from her tea before drinking it once again, “there isn’t even a target for us to strike unless we wish to travel for almost a century to find their masters. The vanguard exists as a series of great factory vessels that dwell in deep space, raiding systems to build more ships and then moving on. Even if we defeat hundreds of their battlefleets, it would be nothing but an inconvenience. The vanguard would simply move on to a new area, rebuild and attack us once again.”
“How do we fight something like that?” Kahtash asked. Threedak smiled. That was Kahtash through and through. No time for wailing or panic. Just a simple, ‘what do we do next.’
“We turn to Bekai,” Threedak nodded toward her other daughter. “One system no matter how heavily industrialized is insufficient to fight back against the overwhelming might of the vanguard. We will need dozens if not hundreds of systems with scanners and early warning outposts looking for their factory fleet in hundreds more.”
“And we turn to Dahlass,” Threedak gestured toward Dahlass. “Humanity was insufficient to even put up a fair fight against the vanguard. The Dhajtel were too primitive. We must become something more than both if we wish to defend what we have earned. It will be up to you to forge a polity that can span the stars and ensure that we maintain the drive and unity of purpose necessary to fight the vanguard once they come for us.”
“And Pinrakt,” Threedak smiled, noting that her usually distracted daughter was paying proper attention for once. “This polity will need myths and legends. A shared culture and entertainment to keep our people connected even if the lag between messages from Dhaj might be weeks or months. It will be upon you to prevent his empire from collapsing under the weight of cultural drift.”
“Kahtash,” she addressed her final daughter. “Your task will be the simplest but most vital. One day, the vanguard will come for us and when they do it will be with the intent to crack open every egg and lay waste to everything we’ve created. That day may not come tomorrow, or even in the next century, but your duty will be to prepare for that day. When the time comes, I want my daughters leading a unified and prosperous empire, capable of defending its daughters against any aggressor.”
“In the meantime,” Threedak finished. “There will be other races, unaware of the threats that lurk in the dark. If you can educate them of the danger coming for us all, that would be ideal. The Dhajtel could use some friends. If you cannot or they do not take our threats seriously, subject races will do in a pinch. Even if they gnash their fangs and swing their tails at you remember, they are naught but whelps. Ultimately conquering them is for their own good. Now that I’ve spoken of my ideas, please. Let me know your thoughts.”
For a moment that stretched on uncomfortably there was silence as her daughters digested Threedak’s words. Eventually, Bekai shuffled on her couch and spoke up.
“Mother,” she said with uncharacteristic hesitancy. “What you’re saying sounds very final, are you-”
“Enough,” Threedak cut her off. Whether it was the pain or her own sense of irritation, the word came off unnecessarily harsh. “There will be plenty of time for such discussions later Bekai. I know that I’ve said this before, but the issue of my health will be resolved tonight. Needless to say, the empire is larger than me. I want our future course charted before emotions and sentimentality cloud our collective judgements.”
“A confederation,” Dahlass interjected quietly. “The distance between worlds will be too great for central rule. It takes almost a month for a ship to travel far enough outside a solar system to safely open a wormhole and return, and that will only be for Dhaj’s immediate neighbors. Anything further out will take much longer. The only way for the empire to flourish will be a collection of strong governors ruling each system.”
“Didn’t that system fail the humans,” Kahtash frowned, her brown scales furrowing around her muzzle. “Eventually they turned to interstellar corporations because their democracy was too disorganized to actually get anything done. It devolved into constant squabbling and disagreement rather than any form of actual governance. By the time the invaders arrived, the humans were too invested in their corporations' profit figures to organize and put up a proper defense until it was too late.”
“Yes,” Dahlass agreed, nodding her head in the study’s dim light. “But we are not humans. I am envisioning a system like the one Mother devised. Unitary rule but with heavy reliance and deference to representative advisors. If we make those advisors the actual rulers of their home systems and let them appoint governors to rule in their stead, what will happen?”
“They’ll appoint their daughters,” Threedak concurred. “We all know the bond between Dhajtel mother and daughter. We literally share the same memories and will. I might disagree with your recommendations, but I could no more betray you than I could my tail. It is simply not in our makeup.”
“The major weakness in the human confederation was that their advisors were largely powerless,” Dahlass’ voice gained strength as she continued speaking. “The governors held all of the power and ruled their homes as despots. Before long the senators sent to the central government became little more than corrupt showpieces in an ineffectual debating society. By the time the senate made any decisions and their edicts were brought back to the governors, they’d already acted.”
“Month to month decisions would have to be left to the governors,” Dahlass shook her head. “There’s simply no other way, but we can centralize all of the race’s other goals. Our rulers and advisors could set production goals, manage our military and determine where to invest our collected resources so that we could expand. Any new family lines of governors/senators would be selected centrally to prevent family loyalty from overshadowing devotion to the race and our cause.”
“That could work,” Bekai mused. “Planning across the empire would be centralized on Dhaj, but we would let the various systems handle their problems in their own ways. So long as we made the senators or advisors, whatever we’re going to call them, the actual rulers and the governors their representatives that serve at their pleasure, we would centralize all decision making authority on Dhaj. In the case of an emergency, they wouldn’t have to send dispatches home and wait for an answer, they could simply convene and decide.”
“It is settled then,” Threedak smiled tightly, trying to ignore the roiling pain in her chest. “Executive authority will solely be invested in Dhalass. She will be assisted by advisors representing the various systems as well as major concerns. Obviously Bekai will represent industry and development, as she has always done. Kahtash, or her representative if she is in the field, will speak for the military. Pinrakt will speak for art and media. Dormah will represent medicine and public health.”
“Dormah?” Pinrakt asked confusedly. “But she’s our niece rather than a sister?”
“Hush Pin,” Bekai cut the confused Dhajtel off. “Mother and Dormah have grown close over the years. Even if Dormah isn’t an advisor in title, she’s been fulfilling that role for a long time. Your head has just been too far in the clouds for you to notice it.”
“Oh,” Pinrakt cocked her head before beaming. “Good. Mother had always been so isolated. I’m glad she found someone other than just us to confide in.”
“I have an objection I’d like to voice,” Dahlass interjected meekly. “Why am I the executive? This isn’t a task that I’m suited to. You all know that I prefer to act behind the scenes, managing the economy and setting quotas.”
Threedak smiled, remembering years ago when she and Dahlass had engaged in this same debate when she’d joined Kahtash in the conquest of the surrounding tribes. As much as the complexity and size of their empire had changed, it seemed that her and her daughters’ core nature remained unyielding.
“Dahlass,” Threedak spoke wistfully. “I expect your sisters to shield you from the press, to prevent you from becoming as much of a symbolic ornament as I’ve become, but you are the only one suited for the task. Bekai is well adapted to her role, but she’s too prone to acting on emotion to lead. Kahtash is intelligent, but she approaches problems very directly, and straightforward solutions aren’t always going to be what the empire needs. As for Pinrakt, she’s too wrapped up in her art. She wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
“Look at your sisters,” Threedak motioned to the trio of nodding Dhajtel. “You are the only one that objects. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been more or less filling the role for years. I mediate disputes, but the economy, development and political makeup of the empire has always been your handiwork. I know you’re hesitant to step into the light and take on that role publicly, but I heard the passion in your voice when you spoke of founding a confederacy. This may be a difficult task for you at first, but ultimately I believe it will be an enriching one.”
“More than anything,” Threedak looked around the room, her eyes misting slightly, “when I step back I want each of you to be happy. Bekai is at home in her factories and labs, Kahtash simply wants to be the best admiral in recorded history, Dormah cares about the health and wellbeing of all, and Pinrakt only cares about producing more art. Deep down, I know that you need to be in control of the levers that control the system Dahlass. Even if you can’t voice that to yourself, I just know you wouldn’t be happy otherwise. Just accept it as one of my final edicts if it helps you come to terms with it.”
Dahlass opened her mouth to respond, but ultimately closed it. She hung her head, unable to make eye contact with Threedak or her sisters as her tail flicked contemplatively.
“Now,” Threedak continued, reaching her hand into the carrying bag she carried slung across her shoulder and stroking the lump of metal and plastic that lay within. “Is there anything else we must address before moving on to the topic of my health?”
“There is one thing,” Kahtash stood up from her couch, graspers formally clasped behind her back. “I would like to speak of the invaders’ construction project after we removed them from the system.”