"Life was cheap, and now everyone is poor." —krogan proverb
When Bakara made her proposal, the entire room went as silent as the Hollows.
"Is this some kind of sick joke?" the Nakmor chief shouted, flying to her feet, her hood nearly spilling from her head.
"It is not," Bakara said.
The Xerd chieftain remained in her seat. Her eyes were wide, but her expression betrayed nothing.
"You can't be serious," the Drau chieftain said quietly.
"Do you think I would gather you all hear for amusement?" Bakara asked mildly. "This is how it must be."
"Must?!" Nakmor thundered, her powerful voice filling the chamber. "You think you can force us to this?!"
Bakara turned her head slightly and eyed Nakmor from behind her mask.
"I would rather not."
Nakmor's hands clenched into fists. Her entire body seemed to quiver with anger. She had a temper, that one—perhaps her death would be a quicker means to an end.
But that was not how this could work anymore.
"How many children do you have, Nakmor Thrull?"
The chief's eyes lit with fire, and she slammed one fist down onto the table between her and Bakara.
"What business is it of yours?!" she screamed.
"You are young," Bakara said plainly. "No more than a hundred years. I would guess four or five. Is that right?"
Thrull blinked twice, rapidly. Before she could summon up any more righteous fury, Bakara continued.
"How many of them did you raise, Thrull? One? Two, perhaps? The rest would have gone to the creche, to be raised by others less fertile or fortunate than yourself, trained by men not their fathers. How many even knew where their names came from?"
Nakmor Thrull's mouth moved oddly, trying to form words and failing.
"How many still live?" Bakara asked. "How many would you die for?"
"All of them!" the chief screamed at Bakara as she punched the table. Her voice cracked noticeably. "I would die for all of them!"
Silence. All eyes turned towards Urdnot Bakara. She placed her hands on the table and stood from her chair, drawing herself up until the full breadth of her belly was visible.
"Then die," she said, "and give your sons and daughters one less thing to worry about."
Nakmor froze. The look on her face, and on the others' as well, became one of confusion.
"The entire history of our people is defined by competition," Bakara said. "The more of us there are, the less there is to go around. And when one has something the other wants, the other will try to take it. That is a fact. That is krogan."
She looked around the room. No one objected.
"If we take what we have earned for granted," she said, "if we rut like varren and throw our children to the creche and breed like we have always bred, in less than twenty years this planet will no longer hold us. We can only expand so far, with or without relays, and before a hundred years have passed, we will be killing and burning and dying solely so our children can survive. In less time than it took to beat the rachni, we will finish what the genophage started."
Bakara slammed her own fist into the table and glared into Nakmor's yellow eyes.
"I will kill you and all your children before I let you doom mine."
They stared at each other across the great stone slab. Not a word was spoken, not a movement made. Thrull blinked. Bakara did not.
The Drau chieftain laughed once, loudly, startling Thrull away from Bakara's eyes.
"The point is moot," she said. "What you propose could never be enforced."
Bakara turned her head towards Drau. "The penalty would be exile. Alone, without a clan to help them, even a mother and father both could not be expected to raise many children."
"They could raise more than three."
"Then let them." Bakara pushed herself away from the table. "Some will never listen. If they wish to go their own way, so be it. All that matters is the majority follow."
"Follow you?" Drau said blithely.
Bakara frowned. "This isn't about glory, Forana. Urdnot makes the same sacrifice as any other."
"And what of colonies?" Drau Forana argued. "How do we control them? What if the colony is small? Are they allowed to breed quickly, until their numbers are high enough? Who decides these numbers?"
Bakara shook her head. "Unimportant."
"For now." Drau crossed her arms. "For someone so concerned about the future, you seem unwilling to consider it."
"Nakmor will not yield," Thrull said, finding her voice again. "Not now, not ever!"
Drau, Nakmor, and Urdnot all turned.
Slowly, the Xerd chieftain rose from her seat. Her heavy armor clacked against itself as she did so, with the many ornamental chains she wore providing a chorus. Her hump nearly scraped the ceiling.
"The details of what you propose," she said.
Bakara took a breath, recomposing her words in her mind. "No more than three living children to a female. No more than three different pregnant partners to a male. Any rite of parentage will go unchallenged, and such children will be raised by those who birthed or sired them, unless both parents are dead or incompetent. A child will belong to whatever clan whose rite he chooses to complete once he comes of age."
"And once these children come of age?" Xerd asked. "Shall a mother bear but three children in her lifetime?"
"Until she or her children move off-world."
"And if these three children are weak or frail?"
In a moment of weakness, Bakara pressed one hand to her stomach. She felt the eggs shift inside her, and steadied herself.
"Then she may let them die, and try again."
In her periphery, Bakara saw Drau's eyes widen, and Nakmor's twist into an expression of horror. Xerd didn't react, but seemed to hesitate. She looked away from Bakara, staring down at the table. Her bright blue eyes seemed distant behind her battle mask.
Eventually, she nodded slowly. "Clan Xerd will consider this proposal."
"Do not dare to tell me what I can and cannot do!" the chieftain bellowed, turning towards the others.
Drau went silent, looking stricken. Nakmor seemed unable to believe what she was hearing.
"We've lost too many of our children," Xerd said slowly. "No more. Not because of us. All Xerd children will live to come of age. As will their children. And their children's children. If sacrifices must be made, they will be made. If others must die, they will die. I will tear plate from skull and break bones with my bare hands before I let anyone threaten me and mine."
Xerd glared at Chieftain Drau, who swallowed and looked away.
"Clan Drau will also consider this proposal," she said.
When her gaze turned on Nakmor, Thrull looked down in a rare gesture of deference. She was shaking again, whether with anger or despair, Bakara would never know.
"Clan Nakmor will consider this proposal," she whispered, her voice cracking very differently this time.
Xerd turned back to Bakara. She nodded respectfully, and Bakara returned the gesture.
"Thank you," she said with finality. "Nakmor Thrull. Drau Forana. Xerd Rhoga. Urdnot is grateful."
After this dismissal, Nakmor left first, staring at nothing as she stomped out of the room. The door didn't have time to hiss shut before Drau followed. Xerd went last, but lingered at the threshold.
"This is what a future is, then," she said quietly.
Bakara eased herself back into her seat, suddenly tired. She sighed and allowed her eyes to drift shut.
"I'm afraid so."
"There is no reason to exist other than the hope that the next day will bring change. And if it doesn't, there is always the next." —Urdnot Bakara, 2186