I had Lieutenant Tisarwat awakened three hours before her usual time and ordered her to report immediately to me. She startled awake, heart racing even through the last remnants of the drug Medic had given her. It took her a few seconds to comprehend Ship’s words, spoken directly into her ear. She spent twenty more seconds just breathing, slowly, deliberately. Feeling vaguely sick.
She arrived at my quarters still unsettled. The collar of her jacket was slightly askew—none of her Bos were awake to see to her, and she had dressed in nervous haste, dropping things, fumbling at fastenings that should have been simple. I met her standing, and I didn’t dismiss Kalr Five, who lingered, ostensibly busy but hoping to see or hear something interesting.
“Lieutenant Tisarwat,” I said, stern and angry. “Your decade’s work these past two days has been inadequate.”
Resentment, anger, chagrin. She had already presented herself at creditable attention, considering, but I could see her back, her shoulders stiffen further, see her head come up a couple of millimeters. But she was wise enough not to answer.
I continued. “You may be aware that there are parts of itself Ship can’t see. It used to rely on ancillaries for that. Ship doesn’t have ancillaries anymore. The cleaning and maintenance of those parts of itself are your responsibility. And Bo decade has been skipping them. For instance, the hinge pins on the shuttles’ air locks haven’t been cleaned in quite some time.” That I knew from very personal experience, just last week, when my life, and the lives of everyone on Omaugh Palace, had hung on, among other things, how quickly I could unfasten part of a Mercy of Kalr shuttle’s air lock. “There’s also a place under the grate in the bath that you can’t see unless you put your head down in there.” That was a disgusting proposition at the best of times. Worse when it hadn’t been routinely, thoroughly cleaned. “Mercy of Kalr will give you the list. I expect everything to be taken care of when I inspect this time tomorrow.”
“T-tomorrow, sir?” Lieutenant Tisarwat sounded just the slightest bit strangled.
“This time tomorrow, Lieutenant. And neither you nor your decade is to neglect assigned time in the gym or the firing range. Dismissed.” She bowed, left, angry and unhappy. As her Bos would be, when they discovered how much work I’d just loaded on them.
It was true that I had near-absolute power over everyone on the ship, especially given our isolation in gate space. But it was also true that I would be extremely foolish to alienate my officers. Foolish, also, to so completely court the displeasure of the soldiers without a good reason. Bo would resent my mistreatment of Lieutenant Tisarwat, certainly to the extent that it meant inconvenience to themselves. But also because Lieutenant Tisarwat was their lieutenant.
I wanted that. Was pushing hard on that, deliberately. But timing was everything. Push too hard, too fast, and the results would not be what I wanted, possibly disastrously so. Push too gently, take too long, and I would run out of time, and again results would not be what I wanted. And I needed those specific results. Amaat, Etrepa, my own Kalrs, they understood Bo’s position. And if I was going to be hard on Bo—because being hard on Bo’s lieutenant was the same thing—it would have to be for a reason the other decades could understand. I didn’t want anyone on Mercy of Kalr to think that I was dispensing harsh treatment inexplicably, capriciously, that no matter how good you were the captain might decide to make your life hell. I’d seen captains who ran things that way. It never made for a particularly good crew.
But I couldn’t possibly explain my reasons to anyone, not now, and I hoped I would never be able to. Never have to. But I had hoped, from the beginning, that this situation would not arise at all.
Next morning I invited Seivarden to breakfast. My breakfast, her supper. I ought also to have invited Medic, who ate at the same time, but I thought she would be happier eating alone than with me, just now.
Seivarden was wary. Wanting, I saw, to say something to me but not sure of the wisdom of saying it. Or perhaps not sure of how to say it wisely. She ate three bites of fish, and then said, jokingly, “I didn’t think I rated the best dishes.” She meant the plates, delicate, violet and aqua painted porcelain. And the rose glass teabowls—Five knew my eating with Seivarden didn’t call for any sort of formality, and still she hadn’t been able to bring herself to stow them away and use the enamel.
“Second best,” I said. “Sorry. I haven’t seen the best, yet.” A happy little spike of pride, from Five, standing in the corner pretending to wipe a spotless utensil, just at the thought of the best dishes. “I was told I needed nice dishes so I had the Lord of the Radch send me something suitable.”
She raised an eyebrow, knowing Anaander Mianaai was not a neutral topic for me. “I’m surprised the Lord of the Radch didn’t come along with us. Though…” She glanced, for just an instant, at Five.
Without my saying anything, merely from seeing my desire, Ship suggested to Kalr Five that she leave the room. When we were alone, Seivarden continued. “She has accesses. She can make Ship do anything she wants. She can make you do anything she wants. Can’t she?”
Dangerous territory. But Seivarden had no way of knowing that. For a moment I saw Lieutenant Tisarwat, still stressed and sick, and exhausted besides—she hadn’t slept since I’d wakened her some twenty hours before—lying on the bath floor, grate pulled aside, her head ducked down to examine that spot Ship couldn’t see. An anxious and equally tired Bo behind her, waiting for her verdict.
“It’s not quite that simple,” I said, returning my attention to Seivarden. I made myself take a bite of fish, a drink of tea. “There’s certainly one remaining access, from before.” From when I’d been a ship. Been part of Justice of Toren’s Esk decade. “Only the tyrant’s voice will work that one, though. And yes, she could have used it before I left the palace. She said as much to me, you may recall, and said she didn’t want to.”
“Maybe she used it and told you not to remember she used it.”
I had already considered that possibility, and dismissed it. I gestured, no. “There’s a point where accesses break.” Seivarden gestured acknowledgment. When I had first met her, a baby lieutenant of seventeen, she hadn’t thought ships’ AIs had any feelings in particular—not any that mattered. And like many Radchaai she assumed that thought and emotion were two easily separable things. That the artificial intelligences that ran large stations, and military ships, were supremely dispassionate. Mechanical. Old stories, historical dramas about events before Anaander Mianaai set about building her empire, about ships overwhelmed by grief and despair at the deaths of their captains—that was the past. The Lord of the Radch had improved AI design, removed that flaw.
She had learned otherwise, recently. “At Athoek,” she guessed, “with Lieutenant Awn’s sister there, you’d be too near that breaking point.”
It was more complicated than that. But. “Basically.”
“Breq,” she said. Signaling, maybe, that she wanted to be sure she was speaking to me-as-Breq and not me-as-Fleet-Captain. “There’s something I don’t understand. The Lord of the Radch said, that day, that she couldn’t just make AIs so they always obeyed her no matter what because their minds were complicated.”
“Yes.” She had said that. At a time when other, more urgent matters pressed, so there could be no real discussion of it.
“But Ships do love people. I mean, particular people.” For some reason saying that made her nervous, triggered a tiny spike of apprehension in her. To cover it, she picked up her tea, drank. Set down the lovely deep rose bowl, carefully. “And that’s a breaking point, isn’t it? I mean, it can be. Why not just make all the ships love her?”
“Because that’s potentially a breaking point.” She looked at me, frowning, not understanding. “Do you love randomly?”
She blinked in bewilderment. “What?”
“Do you love at random? Like pulling counters out of a box? You love whichever one came to hand? Or is there something about certain people that makes them likely to be loved by you?”
“I… think I see.” She set down her utensil, the untasted bit of fish it held. “I guess I see what you mean. But I’m not sure what that has to do with…”
“If there’s something about a certain person that makes it likely you’d love them, what happens if that changes? And they’re not really that person anymore?”
“I guess,” she said, slowly, thoughtfully, “I assume that real love doesn’t break for anything.” Real love, to a Radchaai, wasn’t only romantic, between lovers. Wasn’t only between parent and child. Real love could also exist between patron and client. Was supposed to, ideally. “I mean,” Seivarden continued, inexplicably embarrassed, “imagine your parents not loving you anymore.” Another frown. Another surge of apprehension. “Would you ever have stopped loving Lieutenant Awn?”
“If,” I replied, after a deliberate bite and swallow of breakfast, “she had ever become someone other than who she was.” Still incomprehension from Seivarden. “Who is Anaander Mianaai?”
She understood, then, I could tell by the feeling of unease I read in her. “Even she’s not sure, is she. She might be two people. Or more.”
“And over three thousand years she’ll have changed. Everyone does, who isn’t dead. How much can a person change and still be the same? And how could she predict how much she might change over thousands of years, and what might break as a result? It’s much easier to use something else. Duty, say. Loyalty to an idea.”
“Justice,” said Seivarden, aware of the irony, of what used to be my own name. “Propriety. Benefit.”
That last, benefit, was the slippery one. “Any or all of them will do,” I agreed. “And then you keep track of ships’ favorites so you don’t provoke any sort of conflict. Or so you can use those attachments to your advantage.”
“I see,” she said. And applied herself silently to the rest of her supper.
When the food was eaten, and Kalr Five had returned and cleared the dishes and poured us more tea, and left again, Seivarden spoke again. “Sir,” she said. Ship’s business, then. I knew what it would be. The soldiers of Amaat and Etrepa had already seen Bo, up well past their sleep time, all ten of them scrubbing desperately, taking fittings apart, lifting grates, poring over every millimeter, every crack and crevice, of their part of Ship’s maintenance. When Lieutenant Ekalu had relieved Seivarden on watch she’d stopped, dared a few words. Don’t mean to offend… Thought you might mention to Sir… Seivarden had been confused, partly by Lieutenant Ekalu’s accent, partly by the use of Sir instead of the fleet captain, the remnant of Ekalu’s days as Amaat One, the habit this crew had of speaking so as not to attract the captain’s notice. But mostly, it turned out, confused by the suggestion she might be offended. Ekalu was too embarrassed to explain herself. “Do you think, maybe,” Seivarden said to me, doubtless knowing I might well have overheard that exchange, in Command, “you’re being a little hard on Tisarwat?” I said nothing, and she saw, clearly, that I was in a dangerous mood, that this topic was for some reason not an entirely safe one. She took a breath, and forged on ahead. “You’re angry lately.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Lately?” My own bowl of tea sat untouched in front of me.
She lifted her tea a centimeter, acknowledging. “You were less angry for a few days. I don’t know, maybe because you were injured. Because now you’re angry again. And I suppose I know why, and I suppose I can’t really blame you, but…”
“You think I’m taking it out on Lieutenant Tisarwat.” Who I did not want to see just now. I would not look. Two of her Bos were going meticulously over the interior of the shuttle they were responsible for—one of only two, I’d destroyed the third last week. They commented now and then, obliquely and tersely, on the unfairness of my treatment of them, and how hard I was being on their lieutenant.
“You know all the places a soldier can slack off, but how could Tisarwat?”
“She is, nonetheless, responsible for her decade.”
“You could have reprimanded me as well,” Seivarden pointed out, and took another drink of her tea. “I ought to have known, myself, and didn’t. My ancillaries always took care of those things without my asking. Because they knew they ought to. Aatr’s tits, Ekalu should know better than any of us where the crew is skipping over things. Not meaning to criticize her, understand. But either one of us would have deserved a dressing-down over that. Why give it to Tisarwat and not either of us?” I didn’t want to explain that and so didn’t say anything, only picked up my own tea and took a drink. “I’ll admit,” Seivarden continued, “that she’s turning out to be a miserable specimen. All awkward not knowing what to do with her hands and feet, picking at her food. And clumsy. She’s dropped three of the decade room teabowls, broken two of them. And she’s so… somoody. I’m waiting for her to announce that none of us understands her. What was my lord thinking?” She meant Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch. “Was Tisarwat just all that was available?”
“Probably.” Thinking that only made me angrier than I already was. “Do you remember when you were a baby lieutenant?”
She set her tea on the table, appalled. “Please tell me I wasn’t like that.”
“No. Not like that. You were awkward and annoying in a different way.”
She snorted, amused and chagrined at the same time. “Still.” Turning serious. Nervous, suddenly, having come to something, I saw, that she’d wanted to say all through the meal, but the thought of saying it intimidated her more even than the thought of accusing me of treating Lieutenant Tisarwat unjustly. “Breq, the whole crew thinks I’m kneeling to you.”
“Yes.” I had already known that, of course. “Though I’m not sure why. Five knows well enough you’ve never been in my bed.”
“Well. The general feeling is that I’ve been remiss in my… my duties. It was all very well to give you time to recover from your injuries, but it’s past time for me to… try to relieve whatever is troubling you. And maybe they’re right.” She took another mouthful of tea. Swallowed. “You’re looking at me. That’s never good.”
“I’m sorry to have embarrassed you.”
“Oh, I’m not embarrassed,” she lied. And then added, more truthfully, “Well, not embarrassed that anyone thinks it. But bringing it up like this. Breq, you found me, what, a year ago? And in all that time I’ve never known you to… and, I mean, when you were…” She stopped. Afraid of saying the wrong thing, I thought. Her skin was too dark to really show a flush, but I could see the temperature change. “I mean, I know you were an ancillary. Are an ancillary. And ships don’t… I mean, I know ancillaries can…”
“Ancillaries can,” I agreed. “As you know from personal experience.”
“Yes,” she said. Truly abashed now. “But I guess I never thought that an ancillary might actually want it.”
I let that hang for a moment, for her to think about. Then, “Ancillaries are human bodies, but they’re also part of the ship. What the ancillaries feel, the ship feels. Because they’re the same. Well, different bodies are different. Things taste different or feel different, they don’t always want the same things, but all together, on the average, yes, it’s a thing I attended to, for the bodies that needed it. I don’t like being uncomfortable, no one does. I did what I could to make my ancillaries comfortable.”
“I guess I never noticed.”
“You weren’t really supposed to.” Best to get this over with. “In any event, ships don’t generally want partners. They do that sort of thing for themselves. Ships with ancillaries, anyway. So.” I gestured the obviousness of my conclusion, beyond any need to say it explicitly. Didn’t add that ships didn’t yearn for romantic partners, either. For captains, yes. For lieutenants. But not for lovers.
“Well,” Seivarden said after a moment, “but you don’t have other bodies to do that with, not anymore.” She stopped, struck by a thought. “What must that have been like? With more than one body?”
I wasn’t going to answer that. “I’m a little surprised you haven’t thought of that before.” But only a little. I knew Seivarden too well to think she’d ever dwelt long on what her ship might think or feel. And she’d never been one of those officers who’d been inconveniently fixated on the idea of ancillaries and sex.
“So when they take the ancillaries away,” Seivarden said after a few appalled moments, “it must be like having parts of your body cut off. And never replaced.”
I could have said, Ask Ship. But Ship probably wouldn’t have wanted to answer. “I’m told it’s something like that,” I said. Voice bland.
“Breq,” Seivarden said, “when I was a lieutenant, before.” A thousand years ago, she meant, when she’d been a lieutenant onJustice of Toren, in my care. “Did I ever pay any attention to anyone but myself?”
I considered, a moment, the range of truthful answers I could make, some less diplomatic than others, and said, finally, “Occasionally.”
Unbidden, Mercy of Kalr showed me the soldiers’ mess, where Seivarden’s Amaats were clearing away their own supper. Amaat One said, “It’s orders, citizens. Lieutenant says.”
A few Amaats groaned. “I’ll have it in my head all night,” one complained to her neighbor.
In my own quarters, Seivarden said, penitent, “I hope I’m doing better these days.”
In the mess, Amaat One opened her mouth and sang, tentative, slightly flat, “It all goes around…” The others joined her, unwilling, unenthusiastic. Embarrassed. “… it all goes around. The planet goes around the sun, it all goes around.”
“Yes,” I said to Seivarden. “A little better.”
Bo had done a creditable job finishing all their tasks. The entire decade stood lined up in the mess, not a muscle twitching, every collar and cuff ruler-straight, even Lieutenant Tisarwat managing an outward severe impassivity. Inward was another matter—still that buzz of tension, that slightly sick feeling, steady since the morning before, and she hadn’t slept since I’d awakened her yesterday. Her Bos gave off a wave of collective resentment coupled with defiant pride—they had, after all, managed quite a lot in the last day, managed it fairly well, considering. By rights I ought to indicate my satisfaction, they were waiting for me to do that, all of them certain of it, and prepared to feel ill-used if I didn’t.
They deserved to be proud of themselves. Lieutenant Tisarwat, as things stood now, didn’t deserve them. “Well done, Bo,” I said, and was rewarded with a surge of exhausted pride and relief from every soldier in front of me. “See it stays this way.” Then, sharply, “Lieutenant, with me.” And turned and walked out of the mess to my quarters. Said, silently, to Ship, “Tell Kalr I want privacy.” Not thinking too directly why that was, or I would be angry again. Or angrier. Even the desire to move sent impulses to muscles, tiny movements that Ship could read. That I could read, when Ship showed them to me. In theory no one else on Mercy of Kalr could receive that data the way I could. In theory. But I wouldn’t think about that. I walked into my quarters, door opening without my asking. The Kalr on duty there bowed, left, ducking around Lieutenant Tisarwat where she had stopped just inside the entrance.
“Come in, Lieutenant,” I said, voice calm. No edge to it. I was angry, yes, but I was always angry, that was normal. Nothing to give anyone any alarm, who could see it. Lieutenant Tisarwat came farther into the room. “Did you get any sleep at all?” I asked her.
“Some, sir.” Surprised. She was too tired to think entirely clearly. And still feeling sick and unhappy. Adrenaline levels still higher than normal. Good.
And not good. Not good at all. Terrible. “Eat much?”
“I h…” She blinked. Had to think about my question. “I haven’t had much time, sir.” She breathed, a trifle more easily than the moment before. Muscles in her shoulders relaxed, just the tiniest bit.
Without thinking of what I was doing, I moved as quickly as I possibly could—which was extremely quickly. Grabbed her by the collars of her jacket, shoved her backward, hard, slammed her into the green and purple wall a meter behind her. Pinned her there, bent awkwardly backward over the bench.
Saw what I had been looking for. Just for an instant. For the smallest moment Lieutenant Tisarwat’s general unhappiness became utter, horrified terror. Adrenaline and cortisol spiked unbelievably. And there, in her head, a brief flash, nearly a ghost, of implants that shouldn’t be there, weren’t there an instant later.
Again I slammed her head against the wall. She gave a small cry, and I saw it again, her sickening horror, those implants that no human ought to have threading through her brain, and then gone again. “Let go of Mercy of Kalr or I’ll strangle you right here with my own hands.”
“You wouldn’t,” she gasped.
That told me she wasn’t thinking straight. In her right mind, Anaander Mianaai would never have doubted, not for an instant, what I might do. I shifted my grip. She started to slide down the wall, toward the bench, but I grabbed her around the throat and put pressure on her trachea. She caught hold of my wrists, desperate. Unable to breathe. Ten seconds, more or less, to do what I told her to do, or die. “Let go of my ship.” My voice calm. Even.
The data coming from her flared again, ancillary implants sharp and clear, her own excruciating nausea and terror strong enough almost to make me double over in sympathetic horror. I let go of her, stood straight, and watched her collapse, coughing, gasping, onto the hard, uncushioned bench and then choking, heaving, try to throw up the nothing that was in her stomach.
“Ship,” I said.
“She’s canceled all orders,” said Mercy of Kalr, directly into my ear. “I’m sorry, Captain.”
“You couldn’t help it.” All Radchaai military ships were built with accesses that let Anaander Mianaai control them. Mercy of Kalr was no exception. I was fortunate the ship didn’t have any enthusiasm for following the orders the Lord of the Radch had been giving it, hadn’t made any effort to correct any lapses or small errors. If Ship had truly wanted to help Anaander Mianaai deceive me, it would certainly have succeeded. “Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch,” I said, to the baby lieutenant trembling, heaving, on the bench in front of me. “Did you think that I wouldn’t know?”
“Always a risk,” she whispered, and wiped her mouth on her sleeve.
“You’re not used to taking risks you don’t have decades—centuries—to prepare for,” I said. I had dropped all pretense of human expression, spoke in my flat ancillary’s voice. “All the parts of you have been part of you since birth. Probably before. You’ve never been one person and then suddenly had ancillary tech shoved into your brain. It isn’t pleasant, is it?”
“I knew it wasn’t.” She had, now, better control of her breathing, had stopped throwing up. But she spoke in a hoarse whisper.
“You knew it wasn’t. And you thought you’d have access to meds to keep you going until you got used to it. You could take them right out of Medical yourself and use your accesses to make Mercy of Kalr cover your tracks.”
“You outmaneuvered me,” she said, still miserable, still looking down at the now-fouled bench. “I admit it.”
“You outmaneuvered yourself. You didn’t have a standard set of ancillary implants.” It hadn’t been legal to make ancillaries for nearly a hundred years. Not counting bodies already stocked and waiting in suspension, and those were nearly all on troop carriers. None of which had been anywhere near Omaugh Palace. “You had to alter the equipment you used for yourself. And meddling with a human brain, it’s a delicate thing. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been your own, you know thatbrain front to back, if it was one of your own bodies you’d have had no problems. But it couldn’t be one of your own bodies, that was the whole point, you don’t have any to spare these days, and besides I’d have shoved you out the air lock as soon as we gated if you’d tried it. So it had to be somebody else’s body. But your tech, it’s custom-made for your brain. And you didn’t have time to test anything. You had a week. If that. What, did you grab the child, shove the hardware in her, and throw her onto the docks?” Tisarwat had missed tea with her mother’s cousin, that day, not answered messages. “Even with the right hardware, and a medic who knows what she’s doing, it doesn’t always work. Surely you know that.”
She knew that. “What are you going to do now?”
I ignored the question. “You thought you could just orderMercy of Kalr to give me false readings, and Medic as well, to cover up anything that needed covering. You’d still need meds, that was obvious the moment the hardware went in, but you couldn’t pack them because Bo would have found them immediately and I’d have wondered why you needed those particular drugs.” And then, when she couldn’t get them, her misery was so intense that she couldn’t completely hide it—she could only order Ship to make it appear to be much less than it actually was. “But I already knew what lengths you were willing to go to, to achieve your ends, and I had days just lying here in my quarters, recovering from my injuries and imagining what you might try.” And what I might be able to do to circumvent it, undetected. “I never believed you’d give me a ship and let me fly off unsupervised.”
“You did it without meds. You never used them.”
I went to the bench that served as my bed, pulled aside the linens, opened the compartment underneath. Inside was that box that human eyes could see but no ship or station could, not unless it had ancillary eyes to look with. I opened the box, pulled out the packet of meds I’d taken from Medical, days before that last conference with Anaander Mianaai on Omaugh Palace. Before I’d met Lieutenant Tisarwat in Inspector Supervisor Skaaiat’s office, or even known she’d existed. “We’re going to Medical.” And silently, to Mercy of Kalr, “Send two Kalrs.”
Hope flared in Anaander Mianaai, once Lieutenant Tisarwat, triggered by my words, and by the sight of that packet of medicine in my gloved hand, along with an overwhelming wish to be free of her misery. Tears ran from her ridiculously lilac eyes, and she gave a very tiny whimper, quickly suppressed. “How did you stand this?” she asked. “How did you survive it?”
There was no point in answering. It was an exclamation more than a real question, she didn’t really care about the answer. “Stand up.” The door opened, and two of my Kalrs came in, astonished and dismayed to see Lieutenant Tisarwat battered, collapsed on the bench, bile all down the sleeve of her uniform jacket.
We walked to Medical, a sad little procession, Tisarwat (not Tisarwat) leaning on one Kalr, followed by the other. Medic stood frozen, watching us enter. Appalled, having seen what was in the lieutenant’s head the moment Ship had stopped interfering with her data, with Medic’s specialized implants. She turned to me to speak. “Wait,” I said to her curtly, and then, once the Kalrs had helped Tisarwat (not Tisarwat) onto a table, sent them away.
Before Medic could say anything, before Anaander could realize and protest, I triggered the table’s restraints. She was startled but too miserable to realize right away what that meant. “Medic,” I said. “You see that Lieutenant Tisarwat has some unauthorized implants.” Medic was too horrified to speak. “Remove them.”
“No, don’t!” Anaander Mianaai tried to shout but couldn’t quite, and so it came out sounding half-strangled.
“Who did this?” asked Medic. I could see she was still trying to make sense out of it.
“Is that relevant just now?” She knew the answer, if she thought about it. Only one person could have done this. Only one person would have.
“Medic,” said Tisarwat, who had been trying the restraints but found she couldn’t free herself. Her voice still came out a strangled croak. “I am Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch. Arrest the fleet captain, release me, and give me the medicine I need.”
“You’re getting above yourself, Lieutenant,” I said, and turned again to Medic. “I gave an order, Medic.” Isolated as we were in gate space, my word was law. It didn’t matter what my orders were, no matter how illegal or unjust. A captain might face prosecution for giving some orders—her crew would without fail be executed for disobeying those same commands. It was a central fact of any Radchaai soldier’s life, though it rarely came to an actual demonstration. No one on Mercy of Kalrwould have forgotten it. Nyseme Ptem, whose name was mentioned every day on this ship, at my particular instructions, had been a soldier like these, had died because she had refused orders to kill innocent people. No one on board Mercy of Kalrcould forget her, or forget why she died. Or that I chose to have her name spoken daily, as though she were one of the dead of my own family, or this ship. That couldn’t possibly be lost on Medic, just now.
I could see her distress and indecision. Tisarwat was suffering, clearly, and if anything could make Medic truly angry it was suffering she couldn’t help. My order might be interpreted as backing her into a corner with the threat of execution, but it also gave her cover to do what needed doing, and she would see that soon enough.
“Medic,” croaked Tisarwat, still struggling against the restraints.
I laid one black-gloved hand across her throat. No pressure, just a reminder. “Medic,” I said. Calmly. “No matter who this is, no matter who she claims to be, this installation was illegal—and thoroughly unjust—from the start. And it’s failed. I’ve seen this before, I’ve been through it myself. It won’t get any better, and she’ll be extremely lucky if it doesn’t get worse. Meds might keep her going for a while, but they won’t fix the problem. There’s only one thing that will fix the problem.” Two things. But in some respects the two were the same, at least as far as this fragment of Anaander Mianaai was concerned.
Medic balanced on the knife-edge of two equally bad choices, only the smallest chance of helping her patient making a barely perceptible difference between one course and the other. I saw her tip. “I’ve never… Fleet Captain, I don’t have any experience with this.” Trying very hard not to let her voice shake. She’d never dealt with ancillaries before, I was the first she’d ever had in her medical section. Ship had told her what to do, with me.
And I was hardly typical. “Not many do. Putting them in is routine, but I can’t think of anyone who’s had to take any out. Not anyone who cared about the condition of the body once they were done. But I’m sure you’ll manage. Ship knows what to do.” Ship was saying as much to Medic, at that moment. “And I’ll help.”
Medic looked at Tisarwat—no, Anaander Mianaai—tied down to the table, no longer struggling with the restraints, eyes closed. Looked, then, at me. “Sedation,” she began.
“Oh, no. She has to be awake for this. But don’t worry, I choked her pretty badly, a few minutes ago. She won’t be able to scream very much.”
By the time we finished and Tisarwat was unconscious, dosed as heavily as was safe with sedatives, Medic was shaking, not entirely from exhaustion. We’d both missed lunch and supper, and tired and increasingly anxious Bos were passing the entrance to Medical in ones and twos on increasingly flimsy pretexts. Ship refused to tell anyone what was happening.
“Will she come back?” asked Medic, standing, trembling, as I cleaned instruments and put them away. “Tisarwat, I mean, will she be Tisarwat again?”
“No.” I closed a box, put it in its drawer. “Tisarwat was dead from the moment they put those implants in.” They. Anaander Mianaai would have done that herself.
“She’s a child. Seventeen years old! How could anyone…” She trailed off. Shook her head once, still not quite believing even after hours of surgery, of seeing it with her own eyes.
“I was the same age when it happened to me,” I pointed out. Not I really, but this body, this last one left to me. “A little younger.” I didn’t point out that Medic hadn’t reacted this way to seeing me. That it made a difference when it was a citizen, instead of some uncivilized, conquered enemy.
She didn’t notice it herself, or else was too overwhelmed just now to react. “Who is she now, then?”
“Good question.” I put away the last of the instruments. “She’ll have to decide that.”
“What if you don’t like her decision?” Shrewd, Medic was. I’d rather have her on my side than otherwise.
“That,” I answered, making a small tossing gesture, as though casting the day’s omens, “will be as Amaat wills. Get some rest. Kalr will bring supper to your quarters. Things will seem better after you’ve eaten and slept.”
“Really?” she asked. Bitter and challenging.
“Well, not necessarily,” I admitted. “But it’s easier to deal with things when you’ve had some rest and some breakfast.”
Thank you again for your pre-order! Enjoy the rest of Ancillary Sword on October 7th.